Colorado Could See Single-Payer Healthcare

By David Swanson

Maryland’s state senate has scheduled a hearing on a single-payer healthcare bill for March 10th. California’s legislature has passed a single-payer bill three times. Single-payer healthcare bills are advancing in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and New Mexico. I recently wrote about two state legislator candidates, Marcus Brandon in North Carolina and Byron DeLear in Missouri, who plan to introduce state single-payer bills immediately upon being elected.

Now, let me tell you about Colorado. Mark Mehringer is a candidate for the Colorado State House from District 7 (Denver). His website at http://votemark2010.com has an issues page and a video on the home page that both put a Medicare-for-All healthcare solution at the top of his agenda.

Mehringer is running in a district where the incumbent Democrat has been term-limited, and five would-be replacements have jumped into the race. The departing incumbent was one of only six Democrats to vote against single-payer healthcare last year. His preferred successor sells insurance for a living and has taken thousands of dollars from insurance industry PACs and lobbyists. Mehringer, in contrast, would be a leader for single-payer healthcare in the Colorado state legislature. And he can be, if he wins the primary on August 10th.

I asked Mehringer what it would take to create a single-payer system, and he said that it could be done, and that some partial and local solutions could be steps along the way:

“In 2008,” Mehringer explained, “the Colorado 208 Blue Ribbon Commission for Health Care Reform found that of the five plans analyzed, a single-payer healthcare plan was the only one that would bring down health care costs statewide, even as it expanded coverage to all Coloradans.”

But making it happen will take something different from passing a bill:

“Passing a statewide Medicare style healthcare-for-all system in Colorado will almost certainly require a vote of the people, due to requirements in our state constitution. As a state legislator, I will sponsor a bill to put such a measure before the voters in the 2012 election.”

And what can be done between now and then?

“This year,” Mehringer said, “there is a measure before the Colorado General Assembly to allow non-profits, small businesses (with fewer than 100 employees), and local governments to buy into the existing Colorado State Group Benefit Plan. Colorado also already has a high-risk plan available (CoverColorado.org) for individuals with pre-existing conditions, though the premiums on this plan are unaffordable by many. These are a good start on providing a public option in Colorado that could be expanded into a single-payer approach.”

Mehringer also has ideas for local steps that could build to state-wide success:

“Another direction I would pursue is a local ballot measure at the county level to expand the Denver Health Medical Plan. Currently Denver Health provides more than $250 million in unreimbursed care, as Denver Health is the only major medical care provider in the area with the primary mission to provide health care to Denver residents regardless of their ability to pay, yet remains financially solvent.

“Denver Health already serves approximately one in four Denver residents. The Denver Health Medicaid Choice Plan is also offered to residents of three surrounding counties. It has the infrastructure in place to expand and provide care broadly to the community at large. A local ballot measure could provide a new revenue stream for Denver Health to expand its offering to all businesses and individuals in the county. This local model could then be used as an example as to how a public health system can provide high quality care for less.”

Success in a city could be a model for a state, which could then be a model for the nation:

“By starting local with a more progressive community, it is much more likely that we can win a ballot measure campaign to provide expanded healthcare options. Further expansion of the Colorado State Group Benefit Plan would then provide the statewide system for expanding health care coverage across Colorado. With a few achievable steps, then, Colorado can provide health care coverage for all Coloradans.”

Somehow that sounds a lot more likely than the United States Senate and President betraying their funders anytime soon. But all of this depends on Mark Mehringer winning a Democratic primary in Denver. And that will take money, not much money in comparison to what activist groups blow on futile campaigns in Congress, but money nonetheless. The top fundraiser has raised $60,000 while Mehringer is in second place with $38,000. The money-leader, as I mentioned, has received thousands of dollars from PACs and lobbyists, including the regular cast of health insurance industry lobbyists. Mehringer does not accept any contributions from Colorado PACs or lobbyists.

If you want healthcare in the United States, getting it in Colorado first just might make it happen. If you want healthcare in Colorado, consider visiting this website and clicking on the Donate button:
http://www.votemark2010.com