An Interview with Catherine Strode
Amendment 69 is on the ballot as a citizens’ initiative to amend the Constitution of Colorado to provide a political subdivision of the state called “ColoradoCare.” The measure was designed to establish a statewide program to provide universal healthcare coverage and finance healthcare services for Colorado residents. State Senator Irene Aguilar (D-32) is one of the Amendment’s original, and, strongest supporters. In an interview with Catherine Strode, she discusses what she believes is the public’s skepticism about a health care fix, misconceptions about Amendment 69, and her prediction that if it doesn’t pass this November, it will be brought back for ‘Try Number Two.’
What has been an uphill battle in educating the public about this Amendment?
“I think the fact that the Affordable Care Act has ended up being not very affordable for many people has created a general level of skepticism about whether health care can be fixed by an entity that is perceived as being governmental even though we set ColoradoCare outside of government. I think there’s just a lot of skepticism and fear because they’re feeling like they were made a lot of promises under the ACA that have not held true. The other thing I would say is because health care costs have continued to escalate so much and continuously, there is a lot of concern that maybe the numbers won’t be right.”
What do you think is the biggest misconception?
“I would say the biggest (misconception) would be that somehow this is a whole brand new tax. While it is a new tax, it is replacing money that is currently collected through insurance premiums, deductibles, and copayments. Even though this would be the first time we collect it as a tax, it is money that is already being collected and spent on health care. In this way, we’re actually able to garner significant administrative savings so that we can use the savings to extend coverage to everybody, including the final 350,000 uninsured in our state. Also, we can get rid of deductibles so those 870,000 people who are underinsured because of high deductibles will be taken care of. Finally, we can enhance provider payments for people who are under Medicaid so they won’t be discriminated against because of payment alone.”
Why are you using the slogan, ‘Compared to what?’
“I think people need to remember it isn’t ColoradoCare or nothing. It’s ColoradoCare or continue on the path we are on. This path that we’re on has insurers doing their best to avoid providing insurance to people who really need it. They are creating more exclusions, and increasing their rates, without the people having any transparency or a voice in the process. ColoradoCare would fundamentally change that. This is our opportunity to try at a state level to be innovative and take on this complex issue in a way that reflects the values of our state in terms of both caring for people and being fiscally conservative. It is possible to be both.”
What is the pushback on ColoradoCare’s governing Board?
“We’ve divided the state into seven regions based on the Accountable Care Collaboratives going on now. Each of those seven regions are allowed to elect three people (who live in those regions) to represent them on the central Board of Directors. The pushback is, some people are saying ‘Well, how do you know any of those people elected have experience?’ We usually counter push by saying, ‘It’s the same criteria as running for Representative or Senator.’ It’s really up to the people to determine who they are willing to vote for. The second pushback we hear is, ‘Well they can’t be held accountable because the Amendment says there are no recalls.’ But, they are limited to two, four- year terms. Unlike private insurance companies, all their meetings are subject to Colorado’s Open Records Act. They’re open. The minutes are published. They (the meetings) are noticed in advance. Financials for all of ColoradoCare (it specifically says in the Amendment) are available for review by the public; and once a year, they may have an independent audit done to ensure that the financials are accurate.”
If Amendment 69 doesn’t pass this November, will we see it on another ballot?
“Yes. I think I would look again for it in two years. I think after taking a couple of weeks off, we would get back together and form alliances with other people we are allied with. Then, we would also talk more specifically with some folks who feel, ‘except for this, I would be aligned with you’. We would get some consensus on what would ‘Try Number Two’ look like, and how would we move forward with another try.”
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.