The political dispute over repealing Obamacare is shaping up to be as fierce in Colorado as anywhere else.
Republicans in the Colorado delegation to Congress have signaled their support of President Donald Trump’s pledge to repeal the health care system as soon as possible.
But different opinions are coming from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, both of whom want to preserve at least parts of Obama’s signature piece of legislation.
DeGette hosted a rally at the Laborers Hall in Denver last week and a roundtable discussion at St. Joseph’s Hospital to discuss the risks of repealing the Affordable Care Act. She said Congress should be working to bring down premium prices rather than repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Other participants included fellow Democrats Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden; Lt. Governor Donna Lynne; Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran as well as labor union and hospital officials.
Hickenlooper dedicated part of his State of the State address this month to discuss the importance of hanging on to Colorado’s health care exchange.
“I think most of us would agree that the last thing we would want is Congress making all of our decisions around health care,” Hickenlooper said.
About 200,000 Coloradans depend on the health care exchange authorized by Obama’s Affordable Care Act for basic medical treatment.
Hickenlooper invoked constitutional states’ rights to say he would resist efforts by Congress to eliminate Colorado’s health care exchange.
Congress approved the Affordable Care Act in 2010 with the intention of reducing health care costs while improving health insurance quality and affordability. It authorized subsidies, mandates on insurance companies and state-controlled insurance exchanges that act as marketplaces for approved insurers. The exchanges give states partial discretion on insurance prices and standards.
The federal law requires insurers to accept anyone who applies, cover specific conditions and charge the same fees regardless of pre-existing conditions.
The Congressional Budget Office projected before the law won approval that it would lower federal deficits and Medicare spending.
However, the Affordable Care Act fell under immediate criticism from Republicans. The first of several unsuccessful bills in Congress to repeal it was called the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.”
This month, the Senate approved a “budget blueprint” to repeal the law with the strong support of President Trump.
In Colorado, state Senate Republicans introduced a bill to eliminate the health insurance exchange by 2019. Democrats in the House said they would oppose it.
Hickenlooper reacted to the growing possibility the Affordable Care Act will be repealed by saying, “If changes are inevitable, I will fight for a replacement plan that protects the people who are covered now and doesn’t take us backward.”
His pessimism about hanging on to the health care exchange showed when he said that “we’ll soon have a new president, and it is clear that the new administration and Congress seek a different relationship between the federal government and the states.”
DeGette, D-Denver, said repealing the Affordable Care Act would “send insurance markets into chaos.” Women would be among the most deeply hurt by the repeal, she said.
She was referring partly to a Republican plan to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding as part of an Obamacare repeal. Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization that provides reproductive health services, including abortions and contraception.
Obamacare allowed Planned Parenthood to use money from Medicaid and federal family planning funds to subsidize abortions for low-income persons.
“Repealing the [Affordable Care Act] would rip health insurance coverage from as many as 30 million people,” said DeGette, who is co-chairwoman of the House Pro-Choice Caucus. “The law ensures women have access to services they need, including contraception, maternity care and preventive screening for breast and cervical cancer.”
DeGette and Planned Parenthood officials warned that repealing Obamacare could result in women being charged higher fees than men for health care and denying some of them insurance coverage that pays for maternity and newborn care.
But DeGette, Hickenlooper and other Affordable Care Act supporters face formidable opponents, including some from Colorado.
Among them is Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, who voted for a budget resolution this month to repeal the law.
“For years, I have heard and seen the damage caused by the onerous and partisan law,” Lamborn said.
He blamed the Affordable Care Act for raising premiums and deductibles for families and forcing employers to pay more for their employees’ health insurance, thereby destroying some job opportunities.
“This twisted web of mandates, taxes and regulations cannot be fixed,” Lamborn said. “We must fully repeal Obamacare so that we can start over with a new approach.”
He said Republicans would find “reforms” to the law that continue to offer health insurance that is “affordable and centered on the needs of the patients it is supposed to serve.”
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