Colorado voters nearing decision on the future of health care

Kate Hudnut has seen her insurance premiums go up by 300 percent over the past twelve years. But she is undecided on Amendment 69. BENTE BIRKELAND / KUNC

Kate Hudnut has seen her insurance premiums go up by 300 percent over the past twelve years. But she is undecided on Amendment 69. BENTE BIRKELAND / KUNC

Status quo or major change?

Progressives have long fought for a single-payer health care system. The question as to whether Colorado should create one is on this November’s ballot. The supporters of Amendment 69, also known as ColoradoCare, say their system would be better than the current one created through Obamacare. It would be cheaper, they say, and ensure that no person is left without coverage. Opponents say the system is a massive tax hike that is not sustainable.
The one thing both sides agree on is that the current system is not working for everyone.

“Our options narrow every year,” said Kate Hudnut, a graphic designer who works from her home in Frisco.

She buys health insurance on the individual market for her husband and young daughter who has asthma. Over the last 12 years she says her monthly premiums have gone up by 300 percent.

“Our rates are around $1,300 for the three of us and that is not a fancy plan,” she said. “There’s no bells and whistles you kind of cringe when you have to go to the doctor because you not really sure what it’s going to cost you.”

Next year, individuals and families like the Hudnuts can expect to see prices go up by another 20 to 40 percent.

“We have zero control over those companies and they gauge us every year — they raise premiums every year,” said T.R Reid a backer of ColoradoCare. During a recent debate at Colorado Public Television he said ColoradoCare would give citizens control instead of leaving it in the hands of large insurance companies.

“This year they’re charging us $30 billion for health insurance premiums,” he said. “Colorado Care is run right here and costs less $25 billion… less than we’re spending now.”

About half of the state’s population gets health insurance through an employer. A non-partisan legislative analysis says ColoradoCare would save companies money by cutting premiums and administrative costs. It would raise income taxes by 10 percent.

“The problem is it’s based on an income tax,” said Emily Johnson.

She analyzed it for the non-partisan Colorado Health Institute. The tax, she said, wouldn’t be enough to cover the program.

“Income only grows at around 4 percent a year,” she said.

“Health expenses on the other hand grow at around 6 percent a year. So if you have any system where you’re basing its form kind of payment on an income tax you’re going to run into this disparity down the line.”

If approved, the governor and state legislature would set up an interim board of trustees. And that group would determine the procedures for electing a 21-member board to oversee ColoradoCare. People over age 65 would still continue to receive Medicare.

“Amendment 69 is written in such a way that it has got a lot baked into it that you can’t untangle if it were to get into the constitution,” said Ian Silverii, the head of the liberal group Progress Now.

Many on the left from labor unions to the Bell Policy Center oppose the measure. Silverii worries voters won’t approve future tax increases to keep up with healthcare costs, and that could cause the state to make deep budget cuts.

“It breaks my heart that we had to come out against ColoradoCare,” Silverii said.

Opponents to the right include the Koch brothers backed Americans for Prosperity and Colorado’s Republican Party. Those groups want less government involved in health care, not more.

Independent political analyst Eric Sondermann said division from both the right and left doesn’t bode well for the amendment.

“My surmise, strong surmise is that this will be defeated and probably defeated handily,” he said. “The question is whether it advances the dialogue, or whether it stops the dialogue because its defeat was so large.”

A recent poll from Colorado Mesa University and Rocky Mountain PBS surveyed a fairly evenly split group of Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters. It showed that 56 percent strongly or somewhat oppose. Thirty percent strongly or somewhat in favor it.

Tamara Drangstveit is the executive director of the Family and Intercultural Resource Center in Silverthorne. The non-profit helps low income families enroll in health care.

“The fact of the matter is people are desperate for a solution and that’s why it’s on the ballot. It almost doesn’t matter anymore what the solution looks like, people are willing to try absolutely anything to get some relief.”

And that could be the case for Kate Hudnut in Frisco. Right now she’s undecided on ColoradoCare.

“I see my neighbors and fellow business people packing up and leaving because they can’t make it add up anymore,” she said. “I’ve traveled and lived in Europe and I think there’s a lot to be said for single-payer.”

Amendment 69 is one of nine statewide issues on the ballot this election.

Listen to Bente Birkland’s radio report here.

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