Voters Could Bring Single-Payer Health Care to Colorado in 2016

Activists in Colorado are using what they call the unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), in part, to rally support behind a single-payer health-care proposal that will be on next year’s election ballot.

The “ColoradoCare” initiative would allow Colorado residents to choose their health-care providers, including dentists and mental health professionals, and the government would pay the bill for everyone—eliminating private insurance companies in the state.

To pay for the $25 billion annual cost of the program, a 10 percent payroll tax would be assessed, with 6.67 percent coming from employers and 3.33 percent from workers, plus an additional income tax. The single-pay health care system would have no co-pays or deductibles.

Opponents say voters will never approve an initiative that’s described by the Republican Colorado Secretary of State Wayne W. Williams as a $25 billion tax increase.

To qualify for the November 2016 ballot, organizers on Monday submitted about 159,000 signatures, of which about 109,000 were considered valid. That’s well above the 98,492 signatures required to qualify for a spot on the ballot.

T.R. Reid, a well-known health-care writer and an organizer of the initiative, counters the tax increase figure in an online video promoting ColoradoCare by saying the figure does not take into consideration the savings involved. The median Colorado family would go from paying about $500 to about $200 monthly for health insurance, Reid said in an interview with RH Reality Check, effectively offsetting part of the tax impact.

“Plus we have the power of arguing for the morally right thing to do,” he said. Although rates of uninsured Coloradans have markedly dropped since the implementation of the ACA, known as Obamacare, Reid pointed out that about 33,000 state residents younger than 19 don’t have health insurance. “The United States is the only industrialized democracy that doesn’t provide health care for everybody.”

“Cover everybody, cost a lot less, and get Colorado out of Obamacare; that’s quite appealing,” Reid said.

Part of the strategy in selling the plan to voters is to tap into dissatisfaction with the ACA, which has been fought by GOP lawmakers in state legislatures across the country, but has also met resistance from liberal legislators, who charge that Obamacare didn’t go far enough in expanding health-care access.

“Obamacare expanded coverage, but it didn’t get us where we ought to be,” Reid said. “And Obamacare frankly leaves us, still, with the most expensive, the most complicated, and the most inequitable health-care system of any rich country.”

In fact, Colorado’s single-payer proposal is consistent with the ACA, because the national health-care law allows states to develop their own health-care systems, as long as they cover as many people or more than are covered by Obamacare.

Asked why he’s attacking the Affordable Care Act as inadequate, when it allows for initiatives like ColoradoCare, Reid told RH Reality Check, “It’s a powerful argument for our cause to say ColoradoCare gets us out of Obamacare. In November of 2016 we can go for the status quo, or we can vote for a Colorado plan, ColoradoCare.”

Reid said he thinks it’s a “winning argument” to say Colorado “can do better.”

Opponents of expanding health-care access call ColoradoCare risky and a potential harm to the state’s economy.

“A single-payer system would destroy our industry. I don’t think there’s any question about it,” Byron McCurdy, board president of the Colorado State Association of Health Underwriters, told the Denver Post.

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