A second life for health exchange bill?
House Majority Leader Amy Stephens says everybody needs to take a deep breath and realize that a bill she is sponsoring to set up health insurance exchanges is not dead.
“The bill is still alive,” Stephens, R-Monument, said. “I think everyone has to calm down.”
The bill was to be heard in Legislative Council on Wednesday, but has been bumped to next Tuesday as the House begins work on the state budget.
The legislation, Senate Bill 200, appeared to be mortally wounded last week after Stephens made clear her intent to offer an amendment that her Democratic co-sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Betty Boyd of Lakewood, called a “poison pill.”
The bill would allow individuals and small businesses to band together and negotiate in marketplaces for health care coverage the way large companies do. Reforms passed by Congress last year require states to set up the exchanges by 2014, or the federal government will step in and do it for them.
A broad and unlikely coalition of Colorado businesses, doctors, consumer groups and insurance brokers joined together to support the bill.
Stephens said she’d always supported health care exchanges regardless of “Obamacare” and initially resisted pressure from Tea Party activists to withdraw support. But the amendment Stephens unexpectedly offered last week would have said the exchanges could only take effect if Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, secured a waiver from the federal government opting the state out of the federal health care law, something Hickenlooper said he would not do.
Boyd called the amendment “a poison pill” and said Stephens’ offering it violated an agreement the two had to not offer any amendments they had not both already agreed to.
With the bill apparently dead after the very public amendment, Stephens now has been getting pressure from the state’s top business groups, who overwhelmingly support the exchange bill. A letter sent to Stephens today and signed by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, Colorado Competitive Council, Colorado Concern and the National Federation of Independent Business reiterated the strong support for the bill.
“We are united in our belief that this legislation, as introduced, embodies solid policy components reflecting the specific and unique needs of Colorado and ensures the Centennial State will control its destiny regarding the implementation of federal health reform,” the letter said.
Stephens said she’s also gotten plenty of emails from constituents who support the legislation. She also sounded weary of trying to explain the issue to some Tea Party activists.
“You’ll never satisfy some of them because there’s always some new conspiracy,” Stephens said. “I’m elected to be a leader and find solutions.”
Legislative Council has a 9-9 even partisan split, and so any controversial amendment could sink a bill outright.
But Boyd said she and Stephens had come to a new understanding.
“Amy and I both agreed we’re going to try to get it out of Legislative Council without any amendments,” Boyd said.
The bill would go to the House Appropriations Committee after that, and then, if the panel approves it, to the full House.