Republicans tried to move Colorado's bi-partisan health exchange bill to the right yesterday, and failed. Representative Amy Stephens, Republican party leader in the House, now says the bill must explicitly state that Colorado won't participate in the federal Affordable Care Act.
Colorado Public Radio Health Reporter Eric Whitney says Stephens is responding to conservatives who oppose exchanges and the federal law.
WHITNEY: Before we get to the political fight over the health insurance exchange bill, it might be helpful to quickly define what an exchange is.
They aren't actually things, just new sets of rules for how insurance can be sold. The rules right now don't give small business owners like Harold Jackson of Broomfield much clout to negotiate with insurance companies for good rates.
JACKSON: I've long been an advocate for allowing small businesses to band together, so we can create a larger risk pool, and reduce our costs.
WHITNEY: That could happen in exchanges, and Jackson was urging a Senate committee yesterday to pass the bill. He says he would spend a lot less each month to cover his 12 employees if he could join a bigger risk pool.
JACKSON: that equates to $22,000 a year for my company, that's a significant amount of money.
WHITNEY: Setting up an exchange means coming up with a whole new set of rules. Who writes the rules and what they will and won't do are points that still have to be argued over as the bill moves through the legislature. In general, though, it has broad support from a big coalition of business and consumer groups who don’t always get along.
The only testimony against the bill yesterday came from a couple of Tea Party activists. Robert Rowland chairs the Elbert County Tea Party.
ROWLAND: we would like to see that we table this for a year. We think this is like a chess game. The federal government, we don't know exactly what they're going to do.
WHITNEY: While the tea party was outnumbered yesterday, activists have been pressuring Amy Stephens to drop her support for the bill. Here she is addressing people pointing video cameras at her at a meeting she called in Colorado Springs last week.
STEPHENS: next thing I know I'm viral with somehow my head like a bobble guy, (laughs) with my eyes blinking. It's really not cool. So, Clem if you're in the back taping, and you're here taping, I want to make sure this is used responsibily and respecfully. OK?
WHITNEY: During the meeting, she repeatedly tried to assure everyone that she’s not endorsing federal health reform; she said the exchanges are a Republican idea. And she reminded them she’s actually sponsoring a bill to exempt Colorado from the federal health law. But in a letter issued just before the bill was heard, Stephens wrote that people continue to misunderstand her intent, so she offered a new amendment.
Senator Shawn Mitchell brought it to the senate committee on her behalf.
The amendment said Colorado could only set up an exchange if the governor.......
MITCHELL: Will seek from the federal administration a waiver of all the terms, restrictions and requirements of the federal act. And that this exchange will not become effective unless and until that federal waiver is granted.
WHITNEY: So – no exchange in Colorado unless the state opts out of the Affordable Care Act signed last year. Betty Boyd, the Democrat who brought the bill in the Senate said she didn't think the broad coalition who helped write it would favor Stephens' amendment.
BOYD: you know, there's different opinions on the federal act, but I didn't really hear anybody suggesting that this is the way we should go.
WHITNEY: When the Senate committee voted, Stephens' amendment lost, with all the Republicans lining up to support it, and the Democrats to vote it down. The bill that entered the committee as a bi-partisan compromise left it on a party line vote.
The Senate still gets two more chances to debate the exchange bill, and if it passes it will head to the house.