Club 20 debate hits on economic impacts of Amend 69 | AspenTimes.com

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Club 20 debate hits on economic impacts of Amend 69

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A proposal before Colorado voters this fall to provide health care coverage for all state residents with a new income tax-funded system in place of private insurance premiums may sound appealing on the surface, says a leading Western Slope opponent of the proposal, Amendment 69.

But it would come at a huge cost to attracting and retaining small businesses to Colorado, Diane Schwenke, president and CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, said during a debate sponsored by the public policy group Club 20 over the weekend.

“I’m an economic developer, and I am very concerned about what this is going to do to the economy of our state,” Schwenke said, reiterating a key point of the “No on 69” Coloradans for Coloradans’ campaign that the measure is “risky, uncertain and unaffordable.”

“This is a tax on every single employee that you have,” she said, pointing to what would be a 10 percent income tax on sole proprietorships and limited liability companies, including agricultural operations.

In addition, she noted that the ColoradoCare initiative calls for a 3.33 percent employee and 6.67 percent employer payroll deduction to pay for the new statewide universal health insurance system.

“Yes, this does cost money, and it costs a lot,” Schwenke said. “And it will hurt us in terms of attracting and keeping small businesses in this state, which is the backbone of our economy.”

Speaking in favor of Amendment 69 was T.R. Reid, a renowned journalist, author, television documentarian and National Public Radio commentator who focuses on health care issues and who has become a champion for ColoradoCare.

Reid said the measure would actually save businesses and individuals billions of dollars in health-related costs a year.

The $25 billion-a-year tax proposal is a lot, he admitted.

“But compared to what? That’s what the ‘no’ campaign won’t tell you,” Reid said.

Already this year, Colorado businesses and individuals are expected to pay $30 billion for health insurance premiums and deductibles, he said. That cost is expected to go up another 17 percent statewide next year, and more than 25 percent in Mesa County and other Western Slope counties, Reid said.

“Our plan is cheaper than what you are now paying to out-of-state insurers,” Reid said.

Despite an increase in the number of people insured under the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, Reid noted that 400,000 Coloradans still have no health insurance.

That’s partly because of the high cost of insurance in certain parts of the state, including Garfield County, under the private insurance options available under the new federal mandates, he said.

“All we’re saying is that a decent, wealthy democracy ought to provide health care for everybody,” Reid said, pointing to statistics that suggest 500 people in Colorado die each year of treatable diseases because they couldn’t afford to go to a doctor.

Reid pointed to a study that found the average family of four earning a median income in Colorado is now spending $480 per month for health insurance. Under ColoradoCare, that cost would go down to $168 per month, “and for better coverage,” he said.

“If you’re happy with that system, then vote ‘no’ on Amendment 69, because that’s the status quo,” he said.

Reid also criticized Coloradans for Coloradans for being backed by some $4 million in campaign contributions from out-of-state insurance companies, who he said don’t have the best interests of patients at heart.

Schwenke countered that 55 percent of contributions to the “No on 69” campaign are Colorado residents, businesses and organizations that have given $100 or less.

“We have a broad and diverse coalition across state who are against this,” she said. “I’m not representing insurance companies, I’m representing a bunch of people in Colorado when I say vote ‘no.’”

In addition to business interests and health providers, the “No on 69” campaign is co-chaired by former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter and current Republican Treasurer Walker Stapleton, Schwenke also noted.

Though numerous conservative groups oppose the measure, several progressive organizations including ProgessNow and Planned Parenthood of Colorado also have come out against it.

Aside from the economic impacts, Schwenke said it’s wrong to lock a public health-insurance system into the state constitution, which is what the proposed amendment would do.

“Something this complex, I guarantee you is going to need to be fixed, but you won’t be able to fix anything that’s in the constitution until the next election cycle,” she said.

Schwenke also criticized the size of the bureaucracy it would take to run the $36 billion program annually. That figure includes the waiver reimbursements provided by Obamacare in addition to the new state tax.

“We all know we have a system now that’s not doing what it’s supposed to do, but this isn’t the way to fix it,” she said.