Health insurance exchange bill advances in House

DENVER — The Colorado House gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill creating a health care exchange similar to what was proposed in the controversial federal health care reform law passed last year.

But don’t fret, supporters say. Coloradans can accept the Colorado exchange even if they don’t like the federal plan because it’s an idea conceived by Coloradans that will be controlled by Coloradans, they said.

“The health-delivery issues in Grand Junction are different than Greeley, in Durango they’re different than Denver, and in Colorado Springs they’re different than Steamboat Springs,” said Steve ErkenBrack, president and chief executive officer of Grand Junction-based Rocky Mountain Health Plans. “The ability to take those market differences into consideration as you build an exchange is absolutely critical, and it cannot be done in Washington, D.C., as well as it can be done in Colorado.”

The idea calls for creating a voluntary marketplace in which insurance companies could compete for business, creating cheaper policies that anyone can purchase. It also would include about 300,000 uninsured Coloradans who would get federal subsidies to pay for their premiums.

Opponents said that’s not the best way to reduce costs. They said that only would happen if government stops regulating the insurance industry altogether, saying mandates the government places on insurers has driven up prices.

“Through government meddling, health insurance has become expensive due to mandates. Through government meddling, health providers must pass on the high cost of burdensome regulation,” said Nancy Rumsfelt, director of Liberty Watch, a Loveland tea party group. “Now, we’re presented with another government option that says, ‘Trust us, we’ll fix it this time.’ “

The House Health & Environment Committee approved SB200 on a 9–4 vote late Tuesday afternoon.

Then, in an unusual move, the bill’s sponsor, House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Colorado Springs, rushed the bill onto the House floor a few hours later in a rare evening session, getting preliminary approval from the full chamber.

Stephens has been under attack since the bill was introduced in early April from Rumsfelt and other tea party groups, which have threatened to mount a recall or primary challenge against her if the bill becomes law.

The Senate approved the measure late last month on a 20–15 party-line vote, with all Republican senators opposing it.


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