House votes to increase Medicaid eligibility

State Democrats push through help for poor

DENVER – Legislators voted Friday to expand health care for the poor under Obamacare, putting Colorado among about 25 states that have decided to allow more people into Medicaid.

The House voted 36-23 along party lines to accept the federal government’s offer to pay for most of the cost of adding new patients. Gov. John Hickenlooper called for the expansion early this year.

Durango Rep. Mike McLachlan voted with his fellow Democrats to pass the bill.

“It is about making sure that we provide access to health care and coverage to the people of Colorado,” said Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver.

An estimated 478,000 Coloradans would be eligible for Medicaid under the expansion, according to the Colorado Health Institute.

The federal government will pick up all of the almost billion-dollar cost for the first three years, but by 2020, Colorado will have to shoulder 10 percent of the price.

But Republicans said Coloradans should be wary about gifts from the federal government.

A growing Medicaid program could soon force cuts to schools or other state priorities, said Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument.

“As the federal government begins to cut back and starts to eat into our funds, we are going to face a lot of pain, and we’ll also face a lot of decisions,” Stephens said.

An existing tax on hospitals will pay for the state’s share in later years, and analysts expect that the expansion will actually save money in the state budget. But Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, said that doesn’t make sense.

“This is like when my wife goes out shopping and says, ‘Look at all of the stuff I bought that was on sale, and I saved us money.’ But I would have had even more money if she had never gone out shopping,” DelGrosso said.

But Democrats argued that it’s cheaper to get people on an insurance plan so they can be healthier.

“We’re going to pay for the low-income people one way or another,” said Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge. “Either we’re going to pay through the expansion, or we’re going to pay many, many times more when they go to the emergency room.”

Although many Republican-run states are declining to participate, Ferrandino pointed out that GOP governors in Arizona, Florida, Ohio and New Jersey are pushing for the expansion.

The bill, Senate Bill 200, expands eligibility for Medicaid to people making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level – $14,856 for an individual and $30,657 for a family of four. The expansion was supposed to happen automatically under Obamacare, but last summer the U.S. Supreme Court overturned that part of the law and left it to the states.

The Senate passed the bill last week but needs to pass it again with the House’s changes. The bill then will go to Hickenlooper’s desk.

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