Legislature sets up health-care clash

Bills support, reject insurance law advance in House panel, Senate

DENVER – The Legislature set itself on a collision course over health care, advancing bills this week that both support and reject the insurance law signed by President Barack Obama.

A House committee voted 7-6 Tuesday to pass House Bill 1273, a Republican attempt to form an alliance with other states to opt out of the federal law, which tells everyone to buy insurance.

On Monday, the Senate granted the initial OK to Senate Bill 200, which would set up an online health-care exchange where people can go to compare and buy insurance policies. The idea is one of the features of the federal law.

House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, is a sponsor of both bills, but she opposes the federal law that detractors call “Obamacare.”

Stephens argued for her HB 1273 Tuesday afternoon, saying Obama’s bill was an unconstitutional intrusion into health care.

“We reinstate our state sovereignty in matters that are traditionally reserved to the states,” Stephens said. “If the federal government can mandate that you buy individual insurance, then it can mandate other issues.”

Her bill and similar ones in Georgia, Arizona and elsewhere would set up a multistate compact for health care that, in theory, would trump the law Obama signed.

Conservative groups are pushing the legal theory.

The compact will help states if their lawsuit against the federal government fails, said Mario Loyola, a lawyer from the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

“We hope that litigation will be successful, but history doesn’t provide much basis for that hope,” Loyola said.

However, University of Colorado law professor Scott Moss said the bill “is just flatly wrong” in claiming it can void the federal law.

Congress would need to approve the compact, and the president would have to sign it, Moss said. Obama has clearly said he will not sign a law that rolls back his health-insurance program.

The compact would ask each state to send two commissioners to a board that would craft health-care policy for the participating states. The bill does not specify what kind of health-care system would be created.

Democrats and health-care advocates oppose the compact, but it also drew derision from tea party leaders.

“I see only another commission that is not accountable to the people, further entrenchment of the government in the private lives of citizens, more regulation and less liberty,” said Nancy Rumfelt of Liberty Watch.

Tea party groups have also plagued Stephens’ other health-care bill, SB 200.

That bill began as a bipartisan effort to make it easier for people to find insurance on the private market. Obama’s law calls for states to set up health-care exchanges, but Stephens has been working on the idea since before Congress passed the federal bill.

Even so, tea party groups rebelled, and Stephens has said that once the bill gets to the House, she will change it so it takes effect only if Colorado opts out of the federal law.

The Democratic sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Betty Boyd of Lakewood, opposes that move.

Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, echoed the tea party criticism of health-care exchanges in a Monday debate.

“(Supporters) have one goal. It’s national single-payer health care. Exchanges are just a baby step,” Mitchell said.

But the Senate gave initial approval to SB 200 in a voice vote Monday.

After one more recorded vote, it will go to Stephens in the House. Senate leaders delayed the final vote on SB 200 Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, HB 1273 is headed to the House Appropriations Committee.

The Legislature adjourns May 11, giving lawmakers just two weeks to figure out what to do about both bills.

jhanel@durango herald.com

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