Denver Women's Commission

Prepared by Chaer Robert
For Colorado Woman News
October 3, 2000


Health has re-emerged as a political issue almost seven years after President Clinton gave up on it. Former Governor Romer tried ten years ago to develop a system of universal health care—ColoradoCare. After years of consensus building and community input, it also failed.
Nationally the focus is on the most urgent problem of the generation with the highest voter turnout---prescription drug benefits for Medicare recipients.

The percentage of Coloradans without health insurance continues to grow. Due in part to our restrictive approach to Medicaid eligibility, and in part to our employment base in small businesses, almost 17% lack insurance coverage. Modest salaries are stretched beyond their limits by the high cost of housing. Some employees who could get health insurance for their dependents are deterred by the often $300. per month cost to cover an employee’s whole family. Almost 80% of Coloradans without health insurance are employed.

Those who have never had are not as likely to be vocal and active as those who have had and have lost. Health insurance is no exception. The challenge is to develop solutions that can benefit both groups.

Since massive reform failed a decade ago, we have gained some ground in Colorado. Insurance companies are banned from denying insurance based on pre-existing conditions. Small employers have had more access to health insurance through community rating…basing premiums on community utilization rather than a specific kind of business. Business groups of one, i.e. the self-employed, are now able to buy insurance at community rates as well. Biologically based mental illness must be covered equivalently to physical illness.

Rising premiums, however, might pressure our state legislators to revisit some of the gains consumers have seen in the past decade. They can also throw a bucket of ice water on future proposals that insurance companies be required to provide a certain screening test, or specific benefit.

In the public sphere Colorado lags behind. Our Medicaid programs generally cover the minimum required by federal law. We require an “assets” test for Medicaid. Often having one car disqualifies a family from getting Medicaid for their children.

Our Child Health Plan has had some of the highest premiums in the nation, which discourages participation. Far less than half of eligible children are enrolled. We may have to give back $19 million in federal grants due to low enrollments. About half of enrolled families who pay premiums under a sliding scale are in arrears at least a month. Governor Owens declared a temporary moritorium on premiums and collections until the legislature reconvenes. Clearly, without this, enrollment would fall rather than increase. That children should have access to health care is one issue which has broad bipartisan support.

Under the current TABOR constitutional amendment, state government cannot grow more than the rate of population plus inflation, or the previous legislative self-imposed limit of 6%, WHICHEVER IS LOWER. Health care accounts for about 20% of the state budget. If health care costs are grower faster than 6%, cuts, not expansions, will be required. This crisis is causing some legislators to consider a future referrendum to add Medicaid to the list of expenditures exempted from TABOR.

Other state legislative proposes are likely to include a renewed attempt to develop a plan for how to move toward universal coverage. Incremental approaches include tax credits for employers contributing to employee medical savings accounts, prescription drugs saving accounts and tax credits, and adding substance abuse treatment to the services available to Medicaid clients.

Ask your candidates how they intend to address these health care problems. There are no easy answers.

Colorado Lawmaker Awards

The Denver Women’s Commission and the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce honored three lawmakers at their awards reception on September 25, 2000. Norma Anderson was named “Senator of the Year” for her work in forging the bill to allocate tobacco settlement money. Most of the money—up to $100 million per year—is earmarked for health and prevention.

Sue Windels was honored as “Representative of the Year” for her sponsorship of the Wage Non-Discrimination act. It proposed to address the wage gap between men and women and whites and people of color in a variety of ways. It did not pass House Judiciary Committee, but was the first time this issue has been raised at the Statehouse in over a decade.

Councilwoman Susan Casey received the Hiawatha Davis, Jr. Award for Best City Council Initiative. She was key in getting the City to support a prenatal and home visitation program for new mothers. Mary Mart