Bill that would repeal Colorado health insurance exchange clears first Senate committee

By: Blair Miller

DENVER – The Colorado bill that would repeal the state health exchange that operates under the Affordable Care Act cleared its first hurdle Tuesday in a Senate committee.

The Senate Finance Committee voted 3-2 to pass Senate Bill 3 on a party-line vote. Democratic Sens. Lois Court and Lucia Guzman voted against passing the bill, while Republican Sens. Jack Tate, Owen Hill and Tim Neville voted to pass it.

The committee passage followed hours of discussion about the necessity of the bill while Congress is locked in a battle over whether or not to repeal, and possibly replace, the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare,” on a national level.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jim Smallwood, argued Tuesday that the expenses of the state exchange, Connect for Health Colorado, outweigh its benefits and that several smaller Colorado counties are limited in their insurance options, according to The Associated Press.

Court argued that the state’s health insurance plans would have to be changed anyway should Congress be successful in repealing the ACA.

The bill would repeal the state exchange effective Jan. 1, 2018, though it would give lawmakers until the end of that year to “wind up” the exchange.

After that, the exchange would have to give any remaining money left over to the state treasurer, who would be directed to transfer the money to the state’s general fund.

Should it pass and be signed by the governor, however, a referendum petition could be filed to force a General Election vote on the matter in November 2018.

Smallwood told Denver7 last month that should his bill become law while the ACA is still in place that it would not affect people’s ability to get insurance on the federal marketplace.

“With my proposal, first of all we want people to know that by repealing the state exchange that in no way ends the ACA, it doesn’t end Obamacare in the state of Colorado,” he said at the time. “It allows our citizens to buy the same policies from the same insurance companies at the same rates, but on website healthcare.gov instead of connectforhealthco.com because healthcare.gov is being paid for with federal dollars because with connect for health we’re paying for it, again, with our state dollars.”

The bill heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for its next hearing, which has yet to be scheduled. It would then head to the Senate floor, if passed, where Republicans hold control.

But it would face a steep uphill climb from there in the House, where Democrats have control – most of whom have vocally opposed efforts to repeal the ACA.

Beyond that, Gov. John Hickenlooper supports the state exchange and has vowed to fight the repeal of the ACA. Should it be repealed, he said during his State of the State address that he would fight for a replacement plan “that protects the people who are covered now and doesn’t take us backward.”