By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
Advocates for universal health care in Colorado have adopted a new name and are fighting for a “purple plan in a purple state” through a ballot measure that they hope to pass in 2016.
Now called ColoradoCare, the group previously know as the Colorado Health Care Cooperative, has gotten approval to gather signatures for Initiative 20, a statewide measure that would provide health coverage to all Coloradans under age 65 through a citizen-run health co-op.
Author, journalist and documentary filmmaker T.R. Reid has joined the movement after researching international health costs for his book, “The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care,” and the PBS documentary, “Sick Around the World.”
Reid thinks the plan will be popular in Colorado because it will appeal to both conservatives, who hate the Affordable Care Act, and liberals, who believe everyone should have health coverage.
“A lot of people will find it appealing. We’re going to get out of Obamacare, cover everybody and save billions. That’s why we think we can pass it,” Reid said.
“We’re a purple state. This is a purple plan.”
This Saturday, advocates will be staging flash mobs in Denver to promote ColoradoCare. The dancers aim to show that Colorado can get expensive private health insurance companies out as “middlemen” and cover everyone who needs access to doctors.
The flash mobs are scheduled for noon in front of Denver’s Union Station, at 12:30 p.m. at the Pavilions on the 16th Street Mall and at 1 p.m. at Civic Center Park.
The public demonstrations kick off a movement to gather the necessary 99,000 signatures to get the measure on Colorado’s ballot for November 2016.
If the measure were to pass, Colorado could get a waiver from the Affordable Care Act starting in 2017, institute its own health insurance programs and provide coverage to all residents. Under the plan, people who are on Medicare, TriCare or get their coverage through the Veterans Administration would stick with their current plans. Everyone else would pay to join a health co-op that would collect 3.5 percent of earnings from individuals and 6.5 percent from employers to fund the co-op. Instead of getting individual tax subsidies to defray the cost of health insurance, Colorado would get the equivalent in large federal grants. Low-income and disabled people who get coverage through Medicaid would also be part of the co-op with funding for them coming from the state and federal government, Reid said.
Colorado is one of several states considering waivers from the Affordable Care Act. The movement is building steam among policy wonks on both the left and the right, with states like Oregon, Ohio, Illinois and Colorado considering waivers.
Reid thinks Colorado and Oregon are closest to adopting plans. Vermont failed to adopt a universal care system when high costs overwhelmed the plan.
Reid compares the proposed system in Colorado to public schools.
“Everybody has to pay into it. It provides health insurance,” Reid said. “Everybody has to pay fees for public schools. In Colorado, we think everybody has a right to education. But if you choose, you can send your kid to (a private school). If you choose, you can still use Blue Cross or Aetna. Our bet is that most people will pick ColoradoCare because it’s going to be so much cheaper.”
Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, first promoted the concept of universal coverage through a health co-op in the legislature, but the measure failed to garner enough support and advocates now are trying to go directly to the voters.
Aguilar, an internal medicine doctor, and former state Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D- Black Hawk, are joining Reid in advocating for ColoradoCare.
Reid blames overpaid health insurance executives in part for the rising costs in health care.
“Private health insurance executives make more than oil company executives. The biggest platinum parachute plan ever paid in the U.S. — bigger than Goldman Sachs — was paid to the departing CEO of United Health Care, Bill McGuire (who received) a billion-dollar platinum parachute. That absolutely fits the standard,” Reid said.
“We’re not going to pay anybody $20 million a year,” Reid said.
He said administrative costs for the ColoradoCare plan would be about 3.8 percent, similar to those for Medicare, compared to nearly 20 percent that private health insurance plans are reporting.
“We’ll save billions in administrative costs. There will be no marketing costs. We won’t have the huge staffs that private health insurance companies have,” Reid said.
With savings in all those areas, Reid said the ColoradoCare plan could do away with narrow networks that restrict which health care providers patients can see. He contends the growing trend of narrower networks — now known as “ultra-skinny networks” — was one of many failings that the Affordable Care Act allows.
And even if health reform were implemented perfectly, it would leave about 31 million people across the country and about 500,000 in Colorado without coverage.
Reid believes Colorado has become an influential test state for public policy experiments and could have a profound impact on shaking up health systems.
“Colorado is a recognized policy leader. Therefore our plan to cover everybody would not only be a huge boon to Colorado, it would be a service to the whole country,” Reid said.
“We start from the premise that a decent, ethical, wealthy democracy should provide health care for everybody. Of all the industrial democracies in the world, only one doesn’t cover everybody. And that’s the U.S.,” Reid said. “State by state is the way our country is going to get to universal coverage.
“We now think that Colorado can be the policy leader to show the rest of the country that this can work.”