Ritter’s $600M hospital fee survives

Projection shows revenue would help put 100,000 on Medicaid plan

DENVER – Another major part of former Gov. Bill Ritter’s legacy survived Tuesday when a House Republican backed away from his bill to repeal a large fee on hospitals.

However, Republicans put a $25 million dent in another Ritter priority, the auto-registration fee that pays for road repair.

Colorado hospitals actually worked hard to get the medical fee passed in 2009, when Ritter was governor, because the approximately $600 million fee draws matching money from the federal government. It is projected to add 100,000 people to the rolls of government-sponsored insurance plans, such as Medicaid.

The scheme increases hospital revenue and reduces the amount of charity care hospitals give to uninsured patients.

Rep. Janak Joshi, R-Colorado Springs, saw the fee as a tax illegally passed without a vote of the people.

“In Colorado, we spell ‘tax’ as ‘fee,’ and I kind of felt someone needs to use their spellcheck a little better,” Joshi said.

But he still asked the House Health and Environment Committee to kill his House Bill 1025, which would have repealed Ritter’s 2009 fee.

A broad coalition that included business groups, patients’ advocates and the Colorado Hospital Association lobbied against the bill, and opponents had secured the votes to kill it Tuesday before Joshi ended the bill himself, said Steven Summer, president of the Colorado Hospital Association.

“The writing on the wall was he had very little support for his position,” Summer said.

The fee is working well for hospitals and has even saved some of them in the San Luis Valley and southeastern Colorado from layoffs, he said.

Joshi, though, argued that it was irresponsible because it relied on federal money at a time when the national debt has grown to $14 trillion.

“What we are doing is taking money from future generations for our present gratification,” said Joshi, a former doctor.

The hospital “provider fee” has helped 30,000 people get government health insurance, with another 70,000 expected to be added in the next few years, said Cody Belzley of the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

“The provider fee is doing what it’s intended to do. It’s providing important access to health care for kids and families in tough times,” she said.

Meanwhile, House Republicans finally saw some success at repealing part of the automobile-registration fee that Ritter and Democrats passed in 2009.

The House gave the initial OK on Tuesday to House Bill 1084, which repeals the $25 per month late fines that the 2009 bill created.

If HB 1084 were to pass, an estimated $25 million in late fees would be eliminated, according to an analysis by the Legislature’s economists. The state uses the money for highway repair.

The bill still needs to pass one more recorded vote in the House before it goes to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where its prospects are dim.

But it was still a moral victory for Republicans, many of whom campaigned against the car fees in last year’s election.

Other GOP bills to reinstate tax exemptions Ritter suspended have failed in the Senate, although House Republicans are still working to restore tax exemptions for farm products and soft drinks.

jhanel@durango herald.com