Primary Looms Large in Debate Over Health Exchange Law

February 4, 2012

DENVER, CO – The first attempt to pull the plug on the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange Act was “dead on arrival” in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee – but only after two and a half hours of vigorous debate over the proper role of government in the health care sector.

At least a dozen people testified for Senate Bill 12-053, a measure to repeal of the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange Act, sponsored by state Senator Tim Neville, R-Littleton, and Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, during the committee meeting on Thursday, Feb. 2. A few of people opposed the repeal measure.

Repeal proponents argued that the state health benefit exchange opened to the door to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, nicknamed “ObamaCare,” that was passed by Congress, and signed into law by President Barack Obama onMarch 23, 2010.

Not true, argued Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chair Senator Betty Boyd, who with House Majority Leader Amy Stephens sponsored the bill last year to establish the state exchange. Boyd said there was no connection.

The question of whether or not to repeal the year-old exchange has become a focal point in what promises to be a divisive and high profile Republican primary battle between Looper and Stephens, who found themselves in the same El Paso county district as a result of this year’s reapportionment process.

“It voluntarily surrenders Colorado’s 10th Amendment sovereignty,” said Neville of the state exchange. “It is not consumer friendly or free market driven. It will not lower administrative costs, setting up massive reporting requirements, and it offers false claims of flexibility… and requires total self sustainability by 2014, which is very much in doubt.”

Sean Paige, deputy director for Americans for Prosperity, Colorado Chapter, testified for the bill to repeal theColoradoexchange. He said that the exchange “fulfills state requirements outlined in the massive federal health care program.”

“It was a mistake for Colorado to embrace ObamaCare’s health exchange requirements, because we view that as lending legitimacy to a law that isn’t just constitutionally-questionable, but marks a bold new intrusion of Washington into decisions that rightly belong to states and individual citizens,” declared Paige.

“Health exchanges serve as the proverbial camel’s nose, being poked under the tent. Let the nose in and the camel will follow. And we believe most Coloradans – like most Americans – simply don’t want the ObamaCare camel in their tent,” he sald.

“I prefer ‘Obama cares,’” said Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, giving Paige a gentle reprimand.

Boyd and Aguilar both defended the federal health care system and state exchange, and asked Paige a series of questions, particularly about the dilemma of people who cannot afford or have been denied insurance coverage.

“Why would we want Uncle Sam involved in making our personal health care decisions?” asked Paige, who again said that solutions can be found in the free market – not the federal government.

As questions persisted, Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, intervened and said, “Senators Boyd and Aguilar, this isn’t a court of law so we cannot fit answers into a cubby hole.”

“This isn’t a court of law and you are not on trial,” Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, told Paige.

Lundberg pointed out that people who have been denied coverage because of existing health problems are eligible for health premiums under the Cover Colorado program. But, he said, that program would likely be eliminated if ObamaCare and the state exchange aren’t repealed.

“Obama cares,” Aguilar again chided.

Her comment sparked laughter and broke the tension in the hearing room.

After brief testimony against the bill, the committee voted on the measure to repeal the state health benefit exchange. After a 5 – 4 vote along party lines, the bill was postponed indefinitely.

Republican Senators Mitchell, Lundberg, Ellen Roberts of Durangoand Jean White of Hayden voted for the bill.

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