DENVER – Hundreds of signature gatherers have panned out across Colorado in an effort to place an initiative on the 2016 ballot that would create a state-based universal health-care system.
But selling Coloradans on the $25 billion tax increase will be a difficult task given voters’ past rejection of much less significant tax questions, including a 2013 initiative that would have raised $1 billion for schools.
“The tax thing, that’s going to be what people are going to want to talk about,” said Bill Semple, a Boulder resident and one of the proponents of the ColoradoCareYES initiative. “We call it a ‘premium tax,’ not just a tax. It’s a ‘premium tax’ because people wouldn’t have to pay premiums otherwise.”
If the initiative is implemented, all sources of income would be taxed at a rate of 10 percent. Taxes on wages, salaries and tips would be collected from employers and employees. Taxes on all other income sources would be collected from the taxpayer earning the income.
Proponents say 80 percent of Coloradans would pay less than what they currently pay for private health-care premiums and related costs. Proponents add that the initiative would save the state $5 billion per year in health-care costs.
“Taxes are bad if they’re wasted; if they save $5 billion, they’re a pretty good thing,” Semple said, who lost his wife to breast cancer a decade ago. “Having everyone covered saves a great deal, both economically and in terms of the suffering people go through not having good health care.”
Proponents are likely to face opposition from the private health-insurance industry. When similar proposals came up in the past – as recently as 2013 – critics said current reforms should be implemented first. Effects from the Affordable Care Act are still being examined, including possible benefits from the relatively new insurance exchange in Colorado. Providers have been offering services through Connect for Health Colorado.
The health-insurance industry tends to favor free-market economics by allowing competition to dictate pricing. In Colorado, consumers have about a dozen carriers to choose from, including multiple types of plans. But the ACA also allowed for states to seek waivers from the exchange program in order to create a state-based universal system.
The Colorado Association of Health Plans, which represents health-insurance providers in Colorado, did not return requests for comment left Thursday by The Durango Herald.
Unlike the 2013 effort – which stalled and never made the 2014 ballot – the initiative for 2016 would prescribe how the system would be managed, including appointing a 21-member ColoradoCare board that would administer it.
Proponents have been collecting signatures for about a month, but they said they did not have numbers yet to report. They would need to collect 86,500 valid signatures to make the ballot.
“I don’t think we can count on our Legislature,” Semple said. “We’ve got a country that is so divided about the value of pulling together to accomplish things; that individualistic strain is so strong. We want a system that works for everyone.”