In a recent column our state attorney general, Phil Weiser, wrote how he is going to bat for Colorado consumers. His target? Costly hidden fees.
He touted his legal action against CenturyLink for an unadvertised fee they raise on internet customers. He crowed how CenturyLink buckled under his exploits and is now doing its customers right.
He then promised to fight “drip” pricing where extra fees only become transparent toward the end of a transaction, like that “resort fee” you get at the end of booking a hotel room online.
He even ended with the tried-and-true call for transparency: “The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said sunlight is the best of disinfectants. During this National Consumer Protection Week, Coloradans can rest assured that the attorney general’s office will work hard to uncover deceptive pricing practices, shine a light on companies that use them, and fight to protect consumers.”
It's good to shine a light on deceptive pricing practices. But Phil, it’s not just private-sector companies that hide their pricing. It’s often the government.
And unlike internet providers and hotels with resort fees, you don’t have any choice but to pay the government. It’s not like you can give your business to a competing government that treats you better and doesn’t hide their taxes.
Phil, I’m asking you, begging you, for the sake of the customer protection and transparency you expose, please take on the state government, controlled entirely by your friends in your Democrat Party, to end hidden taxation.
The best and easiest place to start is the insidious hospital provider fee.
None of us want to go to the hospital. We rarely have a choice. Yet we Coloradans are paying nearly $1 billion a year in a hospital bed tax which BY LAW cannot be shown on our hospital bill. You read that right — deception is mandated.
And if you don’t find that repugnant and unethical, you must care more about funneling money to state government than the principle of government transparency.
Of course, the hospital provider fee isn’t a fee at all. It’s a massive hospital bed tax that you are forced to pay when you are at your most vulnerable and weakest.
A few years ago when the state legislature passed it, and U.S. Senate hopeful (then governor) John Hickenlooper signed it into law, they labeled it a “fee” for the sole purpose of avoiding asking the voters for their consent for the tax hike as required by our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Polling showed (and I know this will shock you) that we uneducated rabble would have voted it down. Knowing this, they did it anyway by calling the tax a fee.
The deceptive pricing practice of calling taxes “fees” is an effective way to hide taxes. Your car taxes are higher thanks to the FASTER fee you didn’t get to vote on. Your property taxes are a lot higher thanks to the “mill levy freeze” you didn’t get to vote on. Most of Colorado government funding now lies outside TABOR limits due to this “deceptive pricing practice.”
If that wasn’t insulting enough, your elected officials explicitly forbade hospitals from itemizing their bed tax on your hospital bill.
This was a leveraged ploy. Not only does it hide taxes from the people who are paying them, adding to the fake news that Colorado is a low-tax state, it also directs your anger over hospital bill sticker shock to the hospital, not the politicians who caused it. This sticker shock adds fuel to the push for government-run health care, and its warmer and fuzzier cousin “Medicare for all.”
One of the original sponsors of the hospital provider fee regrets the mishandling of hiding taxes from hospital customers and is courageously trying to do something about it. To his great credit, state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg asked the president of the state Senate, Leroy Garcia, for a late bill — a simple transparency bill — to fix it. It would require hospitals to list the hospital provider fee on your bill. That all.
The Senate president has sent back a decisive answer — crickets. Sonnenberg has been ghosted.
If only some brave attorney general, you know, one brave enough to publicly pledge to uncover deceptive pricing practices and fight to protect consumers would pick up the banner.
Man. That would be cool.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute in Denver and hosts "The Devil's Advocate with Jon Caldara" on Colorado Public Television Channel 12. His column appears Sundays in Colorado Politics.