Colorado House Abandons Single-Payer Plan

Published July 1, 2009

The Colorado House of Representatives has abandoned an attempt to lay the groundwork for a statewide, single-payer health care system.

If passed, House Bill 1273, the Colorado Guaranteed Health Act, would have set in motion the process of transitioning Colorado’s health care market into government control. The measure was abandoned at the request of its sponsor, Rep. John Kefalas (D-Fort Collins), because he could not garner enough votes to get the bill passed out of the House.

HB 1273 would have established a central health care authority to be run by a 23-member board of directors with the goal of creating a single-payer health care system. That authority would have been charged with “creat[ing] a health care system in Colorado that is the administrator and payer for health care services,” according to the state’s official bill summary. Supporters said the measure would have reduced administrative costs.

The proposal was budgeted at $1.4 million over two years, to be financed through gifts, donations, and grants.

An Inefficient Proposal

Proponents of HB 1273 argued the bill was needed to solve Colorado’s uninsured problem, saying a single-payer system would provide affordable health care for everyone. Linda Gorman, a health care economist and senior fellow at the Colorado-based Independence Institute, said the program would have been more costly than advertised and would have reduced Coloradans’ health care options.

“Single-payer is inefficient, costly, and provides lousy medicine,” said Gorman.

“Single-payer systems do not serve patients well—a fact we see from the rationing, waiting lists, and lack of advanced equipment in Canada and the UK,” agreed John LaPlante, a policy fellow with the Minnesota Free Market Institute.

“Medicare, our own country’s ‘universal’ program for senior citizens, has many coverage gaps,” LaPlante noted. “Even so, it has an unfunded liability in the trillions of dollars, which shows that government programs are not affordable either.”

Consumer Direction Needed

Instead of a single-payer plan, LaPlante said, “Lawmakers could take several steps to make health insurance more affordable, such as letting Colorado residents buy policies sold in other states. That would expand the universe of choice that a person has and lead to lower prices for insurance. They should also look at how the state regulates policies sold within Colorado to reduce mandated benefits and other requirements that make insurance more expensive.”

Most importantly, said LaPlante, “Out-of-control legal settlements, unnecessary restrictions on how we can offer health care services, and similar measures make health care more expensive and less accessible. If lawmakers are intent on spending taxpayer money, they should give refundable tax credits to people who need help buying insurance or health care, so they can purchase what they need on the open market.”

Sarah McIntosh ([email protected]) teaches constitutional law and American politics at Wichita State University in Kansas.

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House Bill 1273, the Colorado Guaranteed Health Act: