Both Parties See Legislative Health Care Defeats

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Colorado Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on health care issues despite coming together on one key health policy issue earlier in the session. CPR’s health reporter Eric Whitney says yesterday Republicans lost their bid to let the state opt out of federal health reform. And left-leaning Democrats lost their bid to grant health coverage to every citizen in the state.

WHITNEY: The most far-reaching Republican health bill this session dealt with the federal health care law passed last year. It’s deeply unpopular with party members. What Representatives Amy Stephens and B.J. Nikkel in the House offered was a special kind of “interstate compact.”

NIKKEL: And it allows the signatory states to opt out of federal law so as to regulate health care at the state level.

WHITNEY: The bill was part of a nationwide strategy by a conservative think tank called the American Legislative Exchange Council to get a lot of states to band together and opt out of the federal health law. Similar bills are pending in several other states.

But Colorado's compact bill died when it got to the Senate, which is majority Democrat. Beth McCann, who represents Denver, said the people had already spoken.

MCCANN: the voters of Colorado voted recently on an amendment to take the state out from under the federal health care act, and that proposal was defeated by the voters of this state.

WHITNEY: But that doesn't mean that every Democrat is satisfied with the federal health law. Denver Senator Irene Aguilar says it still leaves too many people without health coverage. So she ran a bill that would grant health care to everyone, using public subsidies. Aguilar says the unpaid bills of people with no coverage at all already cost the health care system too much money.

AGUILAR: and so at some level we're going to pay for it anyway, and what I'm looking at is, since we're paying for it anyway, how can we redesign how we utilize those funds to maybe make them go further.

Senator Aguilar's bill came with a tax increase.It passed the Senate. But, knowing that it would go nowhere in the Republican House, Aguilar withdrew it before it was heard there.

While the parties squared off over their more idealistic health care bills, they have agreed to work closely together on another major health policy. Lawmakers earlier this session agreed to set up a bi-partisan board that will hammer out the details of a so-called health insurance exchange. It’s a complicated re-organization of how insurance is sold here, aimed at creating more competition and lowering costs. That will keep Republicans and Democrats at the table for months to come.