Colorado House Bill 1273 – the Colorado Guaranteed Health Care Act – passed through the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee yesterday with a 5 – 4 vote. It now moves on to the House Appropriations committee for review. HB 1273 aims to establish a Colorado Health Care Authority that would study ways to expand health care access to everyone in Colorado. Funding for the research would come from grants, gifts, and donations (as opposed to a tax-funded study). So although the bill did pass through the committee hearing yesterday, it still faces challenges with the rest of the legislative process and with obtaining funding.
Over the last few days, we’ve received several emails concerning HB 1273. The messages were fairly evenly split between support and opposition, and each side provided plenty of arguments. Some of the views were obviously biased, coming from people on both sides of the issue with a vested personal interest in the success or failure of HB 1273. But one argument struck me as particularly worthy of discussion. It came from an opponent of HB 1273, but it’s a point that should be considered by both sides of this issue. It had to do with the fact that Colorado is not an island, and no other state in the US has universal health care.
Massachusetts has a much lauded/ridiculed (depending on which side you’re on) universal health insurance plan, requiring everyone to purchase health insurance or face tax penalties. But as Tom Russell, VP of Health Care For All Colorado, pointed out on his comment on my previous post about HB 1273, this bill is about universal health care, not health insurance. That is an important difference, as most experts agree that just having health insurance doesn’t guarantee access to health care. But it also creates a potential problem for Colorado, if the state were to eventually adopt a universal health care system independently from the rest of the country.
Throughout the world, countries have immigration laws that are designed to protect their assets. The US is no exception, and if the country were to move to a universal health care system, our immigration laws would help to limit access to health care to tax-paying American citizens (obviously this isn’t a perfect system, but I’m not getting into illegal immigration here). But within the US, individual states have no such protections. Americans can move freely from one state to another. We can travel across state lines to obtain medical care just as easily as we can go across states lines to buy fireworks or shop in a neighboring state that has lower sales taxes.
Imagine a scenario where the rest of the country still has private health insurance combined with public programs like Medicare and Medicaid, but Colorado has universal health care. What would prevent an influx of sick people from moving to Colorado? In the text of HB 1273, there is a notation about premiums or fees for a universal health care program, as it states that one of the Authority’s tasks would be “collecting fees or premiums from all residents of Colorado who are eligible to participate in the system.” So one can assume that it would not be as simple as free health care for everyone in Colorado (or even for everyone in Colorado who can show proof of a state tax return). But no matter what safeguards are put in place, it’s logical to assume that someone with a chronic illness who doesn’t have access to good health insurance might seriously consider moving to Colorado.
I moved to Colorado with my family when I was 14 – I’m not a native, and I’m happy to welcome new arrivals to the state. But I worry that if Colorado were to become the only state in the US with universal health care, we might be faced with a wave of new arrivals in need of health care.
I know that HB 1273 is designed to simply set up a study to look into the potential for implementing a universal health care system in Colorado, and obviously there would be lots of wrinkles to iron out during that process. But I’m curious to hear the thoughts of proponents of the bill on this particular issue.