Chamber opposes single-payer proposal

Diane Schwenke
Diane Schwenke

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce opposes a ballot measure that would implement a single-payer health insurance system in Colorado as a costly and risky plan that could hurt businesses and affect medical care.

The chamber hosted a meeting to outline its position on Amendment 69 and invited a hospital executive, business owner and retiree to voice their concerns.

Chamber officials also asked for help in campaigning against the measure in the upcoming election. “It’s going to take a pretty grass-roots effort to get the word out about what this really does,”  said Diane Schwenke, the president and chief executive officer of the chamber.

If approved, Amendment 69 would implement a comprehensive health care system funded by a payroll tax of 6.67 percent for employers and 3.33 percent for employees. Self-employed people would pay 10 percent of their net income. People would still choose their medical providers, but their bills would be paid by the so-called ColoradoCare system rather than private insurers. A 21-member board with elected representatives from across the state would govern the system.

Advocates of Amendment 29 contend the system could reduce health care costs by cutting the administrative costs of private insurers and buying pharmaceuticals at bulk prices.

Schwenke said the chamber opposes Amendment 69 for a number of reasons, starting with its estimated annual cost of $25 billion. “That is about the size of our entire state budget.”

The tax imposed to fund the plan would hurt existing businesses in Colorado while discouraging new businesses from operating in the state, she said.

It’s uncertain, though, if even that amount of money would be sufficient to fund the system, Schwenke said. The governing board could raise taxes by asking members of the plan to do so. The system would be exempt from government taxing and spending limits imposed under the state constitution.

The scope of coverage offered under the plan, including coverage for special conditions, also is unclear, Schwenke said. “You don’t know what you’re buying for that $25 billion.”

It’s impractical for just one state to attempt to set up a single-payer health care system when health care, Schwenke said. Because Amendment 69 would alter the state constitution, it would be difficult to change once approved, she added.

Chris Thomas, president and chief executive officer of Community Hospital in Grand Junction, said he’s concerned about Amendment 69 for a number of reasons. “We’re not fans of this.”

Thomas said he’s worried about reimbursements to health care providers under the system. Community Hospital already struggles with reimbursements under the Medicare and Medicaid programs that aren’t sufficient to cover the costs of providing care. If ColoradoCare doesn’t raise sufficient tax revenues to cover costs, one option would be to lower payments to providers, he said. Moreover, it would be difficult for the hospital to negotiate higher reimbursements with just one payer.

Given the reimbursement rates, Thomas said he’s also worried it could be challenging to retain and recruit doctors and other health care professionals if Amendment 69 passes.

The additional costs associated with  the higher payroll taxes to fund ColoradoCare also could make it more difficult financially for Community Hospital to operate, he said.

Mike Anton, chief executive officer of EmTech, an electric motor and equipment repair company based in Grand Junction, said his employee health benefits have changed over the years as costs have increased. The company used to provide full coverage at no costs to employees. But employees now have to contribute to their insurance, and that contribution has increased.

The tax to fund ColoradoCare combined with the uncertainty about the scope of coverage, makes Amendment 69 an unacceptable risk, Anton said. “For me, it just makes no sense.”

Marty Chazen, a retired executive, also said he’s concerned about the effects of the taxes imposed under Amendment 69 on businesses at a time when communities in Colorado are trying to retain and recruit businesses. “A $25 billion tax increase makes no sense.”

Chazen said he’s worried as well about the effects of Amendment 69 on retirees. Retirees with income above $24,000 could face taxes on the portion of income above that level, he said.

“It’s bad for small business, a disincentive for growth and hurts retirees,” he said.

2 Responses to "Chamber opposes single-payer proposal"