State senate sends Medicaid expansion bill to House

By Joe Hanel
Journal Denver Bureau

DENVER – The state senate voted Monday to expand government health insurance for the poor, a key part of the federal health care law known as Obamacare.

Under Senate Bill 200, adults making 133 percent of the federal poverty level – $15,282 for a single person – would qualify for Medicaid. The cost to insure the extra people will approach $1 billion a year next year, but the federal government will pay all the costs the first few years.

Every Republican but one opposed the expansion when the Senate voted Monday.

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, said Medicaid doesn’t work and people who use it have worse health outcomes than people without insurance.

“If we move this bill forward, we put another billion dollars of our neighbors’ money in a direction that does not make us healthier,” Hill said.

The sponsor, Sen. Irene Aguilar, disputed that argument during debate late Friday. People on Medicaid get access to preventive care that they don’t have when they lack insurance, she said.

“Medicaid expansion saves lives. Let me say that again: Medicaid expension saves lives,” Aguilar said.

More than 800,000 Coloradans lack health insurance. Aguilar said her bill is projected to cover 187,000 of them.

A current tax on hospital services will be used to pay Colorado’s share of the expansion once the federal government starts shifting the burden to the state.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, opposed the bill. She said nonpartisan studies have shown between 7 percent and 9 percent of Medicaid spending is improper or fradulent.

She thinks a bigger problem with health care is a lack of doctors and nurses and low reimbursement rates for providers from Medicaid.

“I appreciate what people are trying to do. I just don’t think throwing more money at it is necessarily the answer,” Roberts said.

Sen. Larry Crowder of Alamosa was the only Republican to vote for the bill.

Fourteen of his 16 counties have more than 20 percent of their populations living in poverty, Crowder said. He thinks the bill will help the four hospitals in his district that are in financial trouble because their uninsured patients can’t afford to pay.

“I have no choice but to support this,” Crowder said.

The bill now goes to the House. Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed the Medicaid expansion late last year.

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