Governor signs insurance reform

Exchange will help businesses cut costs for health coverage

LAKEWOOD – Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law Wednesday a health-insurance exchange that backers believe will lower costs for thousands of small businesses.

The exchange will include a website where people and business owners can compare and buy policies and pool their buying power to get better prices.

The federal health-insurance law that President Barack Obama signed in 2010 calls for states to create exchanges, and seven states have done it so far.

“We were the only states where it was done in a bipartisan way, where both Republicans and Democrats signed up,” Hickenlooper said.

Had Colorado not created an exchange, it would have been put into a national exchange – something that business groups wanted to avoid.

“Coloradans have long been pioneers in health-care innovation, and we do things our own way,” said Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, sponsor of the exchange, Senate Bill 200.

A large coalition of medical, consumer and business groups pushed for the bill, but it nearly fell apart in the face of tea party criticism.

The House sponsor, House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, nearly scuttled the bill by briefly insisting that it not take effect unless Obama’s national bill is repealed.

But tea party groups continued to rail against SB 200 as a government takeover of health care. Stephens turned her back on the activists, some of whom are planning a Republican primary challenge against her.

Stephens was out of the country caring for a sick parent and did not attend Wednesday’s ceremony.

Business-oriented Republican groups pushed hard for the bill, including the National Federation of Independent Business.

Backers hope 100,000 Coloradans will join the pool, said NFIB State Director Tony Gagliardi.

“It’s going to be competitive. We’re going to have more choices than we ever had,” Gagliardi said. “Finally, the risk pools are going to be enlarged, which we’ve been screaming about for years.”

Currently, small businesses pay health-insurance rates based on the risks of their employees, so one sick or injured employee in a business with 10 workers can greatly raise the cost for everyone.

With a larger risk pool, rates should come down because costs can be averaged among a group of 100,000 people.

The exchange will be open to businesses with 50 employees or fewer through 2017. After that, businesses with up to 100 employees can join, Gagliardi said.

Hickenlooper and legislative leaders will appoint people to the board that governs the exchange this month. The board will meet sometime in July to begin designing the details of the exchange.

jhanel@ durangoherald.com