Friday, March 15, 2013

Colorado Medicaid expansion advances in legislature

March 14 marked a historic day in Colorado, in which hundreds of thousands of low-income individuals and families moved one step closer to accessing meaningful, affordable health care coverage.  The Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved by a 5-2 margin Senate Bill 13-200 , which proposes to expand Medicaid in Colorado pursuant to the Affordable Care Act to all individuals under age 65 whose annual income is below 133 percent of the federal poverty level ($15,281 for an individual and $25,975 for a family of three).  SB 200 passed out of the committee with bipartisan support, despite the characteristic partisan divide that envelopes discussions on health reform.

The committee hearing began with a powerful introduction by Senator Irene Aguilar, the bill sponsor, in which she explained that expanding Medicaid is a great deal for our state, it will grow the economy, and most importantly it’s the right thing to do.  Senator Aguilar explained that a majority of those who would become eligible under the expansion are employed but are either not offered coverage or cannot afford it.  According to a CCLP report , more than 122,000 working Coloradans would gain access to coverage under the expansion.  Senator Aguilar drove home the importance of health care access for low-income families by citing a report by the Colorado Trust that predicts expanding Medicaid could save 600 lives in Colorado per year. 

The committee heard from six panels of supporting testimony, including members of the health care industry, physicians, consumer advocates and concerned citizens.  CCLP’s Elisabeth Arenales provided historical context, stating that the Medicaid expansion “builds on a fifteen-year track record of achievement in bringing Coloradans into health insurance coverage.”  Some of these achievements include the 1998 adoption of CHP+, various Medicaid eligibility expansion to parents and adults in 2004, and  the 2011 establishment of the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange.  Perhaps the most striking testimony came from Tish Barber, a wife and mother of three boys who drove 5 ½ hours to share her family’s story.  Her husband works full time for a tire company that does not offer insurance coverage and they are unable to afford coverage in the individual market.  Ms. Barber told the committee how crucial it is that her children are covered under Medicaid, but her and her husband remain uninsured and at risk for potentially bankrupting medical expenses should they become sick.  She told the committee that Colorado has a chance to change the lives of many low-income Coloradans.  We commend the committee for taking that chance.

No comments: