League of Women Voters urges endorsement
Spurred by statistics that indicate the number of people without health insurance has spiked dramatically in the last decade, a grassroots health advocacy group is pushing for health coverage for all Colorado citizens.
The Health Care for All Colorado Foundation has been traversing the state seeking supporters, and on February 19—at the behest of the Gunnison County League of Women Voters—the Gunnison County commissioners signed on.
“We have to fix health care,” said Gunnison County commissioner Paula Swenson, in an interview after the meeting. “And it seems to me that it’s easier to fix at the state level.”
League of Women Voters spokesperson Kathy Coleman told commissioners at their January 29 work session that small businesses like many of those in Gunnison County have a particularly difficult time obtaining health coverage. “Over a period of time, health care is deteriorating and we can all see it,” she said. “Certainly in our area of Colorado we have a severe problem because we have so many small businesses.”
Coleman said a major goal of the League of Women Voters is to work to provide comprehensive health care to all Colorado citizens, and the foundation’s proposal met the league’s requirement for support. “The best thing about it is, it will cover everyone,” she said.
The Health Care for All Colorado Foundation proposes a public payer, private provider system, which would mean that all health care would be administered by a single payer.
The single payer, in this case, would be an autonomous state entity expressly created for the purpose of administrating health care. That entity’s budget would function separately from the rest of state government, according to the proposal.
Health Care for All Colorado president Richard Gingery, M.D. said that under the full proposed program, private health insurers would be eliminated and patients would automatically become members of the state-administrated program upon their first visit to their health care provider.
The foundation’s position is that by eliminating wasteful administrative spending by private insurers, the public single payer program can provide quality, equitable health care access for all state residents. They argue that such a system will allow more comprehensive benefits that encompass a broader range of coverage than what’s currently available through any single private insurance plan, while eliminating many administration costs.
Dr. John Tarr, a long-time local physician, said he supported the single payer system over any other concept being considered by elected officials. He said the others merely amounted to tinkering with a system that clearly didn’t work. “I would strongly support the single payer concept, and all the other concepts should be assigned to the trash heap of history, where they belong,” he said.
The commissioners’ concern over the burgeoning cost of health care is shared by public officials across the board. State Representative Kathleen Curry says health care is high among the list of her constituents’ priorities. Besides the work she does on long-term land and water use issues, Curry spends much of her time trying to address voter angst over the increasing cost of living. “[Voters] want to know how I can help them with things like health care, making ends meet,” she said.
According to Swenson, elected officials are responding to health care costs because they have little choice. The legions of uninsured are growing daily and even citizens with insurance are feeling the pinch of rising premiums.
The January 2008 Colorado State Blue Ribbon Commission for Health Care Reform reported that 15.1 percent of Coloradoans lack health insurance, equaling 792,000 people. Of that number, 20 percent are children. Throughout the country, nearly 50 million Americans are without health insurance.
According to the report, health insurance premiums have quickly outstripped inflation and wage growth. Employer-sponsored insurance premiums have more than doubled in just the last decade. The report says that many of the increased costs associated with health care are generated by the uninsured, who pass the price of treatment they incur to health providers, who in turn attempt to recoup their losses through their insurance companies. The costs are ultimately borne by the consumer, the report said.
Health Care for All Colorado reports that U.S. citizens spend roughly twice as much for health care than any other industrialized country in the world, while the quality of the care ranks only 37th. Employer-provided health care has dropped from 66 percent in 1979 to only 54 percent today. And the foundation says that more than half of all personal bankruptcies are due to disastrous medical costs.
Health Care for All Colorado literature says the organization recognizes such a system will require a substantial revenue stream, which will have to be funded with tax dollars. But the foundation argues that citizens would pay less in a tax increase than they are currently paying for private health insurance and health care costs.
The foundation proposes a possible increase of sales and income tax and increased taxes on cigarettes and alcohol to pay for the program, but Dr. Gingery says that decision would ultimately be left to the elected officials.
“The funding would have to be set by the legislature,” he said.
State Senator Gail Schwartz said in an interview at the Gunnison County Democratic Assembly on February 24 that the Colorado Democratic Caucus is committed to health care reform. “I see tremendous merit in this proposal,” she said.
But Schwartz said she was withholding her own support for Health Care for All Coloradoans until a revenue stream has been designated. “It’s a huge leap,” she said.
She blamed the lack of adequate health care on the Republican leadership at the national level, which, she said, was pushing local officials and groups like the League of Women Voters to act on their own. “I’m really impressed with the work the league and the (Gunnison County) commissioners have done,” she said.