Hickenlooper Expands Medicaid But Cost Remains Unknown

May 14, 2013

Gov. Hickenlooper signed a Medicaid expansion bill with estimates on cost varying widely

DENVER – In his State of the State address, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced his plan to expand Medicaid to 160,000 low-income adults. The governor succeeded – despite Republican opposition – and signed the bill into law, Monday. 

“This is going to support working Coloradans and improve economic security for all individuals and families and ultimately even for businesses,” said Hickenlooper during the bill signing on the west side of the Capitol.

Republicans argued that it opens the door to ObamaCare, the federal Patient Protection & Affordable Health Care Act pushed by President Barack Obama. And Hickenlooper’s Medicaid expansion may not be sustainable if the state is forced to pay the exorbitant cost.

The cost, Hickenlooper said, would be paid by the federal government until fiscal year 2016-2017 when Colorado will pick up 10 percent of the tab. He said the estimated $128 million cost over the next 10 years will be offset by $280 million savings by waste reduction and technological improvements to the state Medicaid program.


The $128 million price tag might be wishful thinking. According to a study by The Kaiser Family Foundation, the Medicaid expansion cost to the state will climb as high as $858 million over the next 10 years.

“This is one step towards universal healthcare when it puts the government in charge of our medical decisions,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) who opposed the measure.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to force states to expand Medicaid, a requirement in ObamaCare.

The last time Medicaid coverage was expanded was in 2009, when Gov. Bill Ritter assessed a hospital fee, paid by insured patients, to generate an estimated $600 million to offset the state’s share of federal Medicaid costs. 

Under Ritter’s plan, 100,000 people were added to 702,239 Medicaid enrollees in 2009. Now, Hickenlooper hopes to add 160,000 adults to the public assistance roster. In 2006, there were 549,952 Medicaid recipients in Colorado.

Unknown is whether the state can afford Hickenlooper’s public healthcare expansion because the federal funding may be less or withdrawn after three years. And the state fees imposed by Ritter on insured hospital patients might not generate enough revenue to cover the costs.

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, a sponsor of Medicaid expansion bill, said he didn’t think the federal funds would be cut, but he can’t guarantee that they won’t.

“It defies logic that we’re going to put 100,000 more people onto a system and somehow think that’s going to save us money,” said Rep. Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland). “That’s just not logical.”

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