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Colorado, Single-Payer, and the Definition of Insanity

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, the promoters of Amendment 69 — popularly known as ColoradoCare — are certainly crazy. Despite the uniform record of failure racked up by single-payer health care systems everywhere they have been imposed, the advocates of Amendment 69 believe the results will be different in the Centennial State. Thus, they contrived late last year to add a question to this November’s ballot asking their fellow Coloradans to approve an amendment to the state constitution permitting them to demonstrate yet again that single-payer doesn’t work.

If the promoters of ColoradoCare aren’t certifiably nuts, they obviously suffer from a serious learning disability that prevents them from absorbing the lessons of similar experiments conducted in other states with “universal health care.” They have not, for example, learned anything from the failure of a similar scheme in Vermont. Green Mountain Care, as Vermont’s Democrat governor dubbed the single-payer system that he made the centerpiece of his reelection campaign, exploded on the launch pad 18 months ago. Why? For the same reason all such schemes fail — money. To paraphrase P.J. O’Rourke, free health care is very expensive.

But such realities have little effect on the magical thinking of Amendment 69 advocates, particularly when they have the support of Vermont’s own Bernie Sanders, who last fall endorsed the scheme in a statement to the Colorado Independent: “Colorado could lead the nation in moving toward a system to ensure better health care for more people at less cost.” What Sanders refers to as “less cost” will come to a hair-raising $38 billion per year, more than Colorado’s annual state budget of $27 billion. And where, precisely, will all this money come from? Why, from the usual victims, of course. The Denver Post provides the grisly details:

Funding for Amendment 69 will come primarily from an additional 10 percent tax on all earned income generated in Colorado. All employees will pay a 3.33 percent tax and their employers will pay 6.67 percent tax, regardless of employment status (full-time, part-time, seasonal, per diem, etc.) or resident status. Citizens earning non-payroll income will pay a 10 percent tax on business income, rental income, farm and ranch income, taxable pensions, taxable Social Security, taxable interest, dividends, taxable refunds and credits, capital gains, taxable IRA distributions, and other income.

This horror story has produced a broad bipartisan consensus that the state can’t afford ColoradoCare. Statewide opposition to Amendment 69 is led by a group called “Coloradans for Coloradans,” coordinated by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. Prominent politicians opposing Amendment 69 include the state’s Democrat governor, John Hickenlooper, the Republican State Treasurer, Walker Stapleton, and former Democrat Governor Bill Ritter. It is also opposed by the Colorado Association of Commerce & Industry, the Colorado Farm Bureau, the state’s health insurance trade groups, and the Colorado Hospital Association.

Hilariously, the advocates of Amendment 69 claim that the $38 billion price tag is no big deal. In an “independent analysis,” the Colorado Health Institute downplays it thus: “If it were a private company, ColoradoCare would rank about 80th in the Fortune 500, just behind New York Life Insurance and ahead of well-known companies such as American Express, Twenty First Century Fox, 3M, Sears, Nike and McDonald’s.” Oddly, this analogy fails to note that the revenue for all of these companies is derived from the sale of goods and services that customers voluntarily purchase. If Amendment 69 passes, Colorado taxpayers won’t enjoy the luxury of choice.

One of the most ironic features of ColoradoCare involves its proposed organizational structure. As a promotional brochure explains, “ColoradoCare would operate using the cooperative business model.… Other cooperative businesses are credit unions, rural electric cooperatives, REI [Recreational Equipment, Inc.], and the Green Bay Packers.” Conspicuously absent from this list of examples is Colorado HealthOP, one of eleven Obamacare CO-OPs that collapsed last year. That “cooperative business model” caused about 80,000 Coloradans to lose their health coverage after cash reserve issues forced the state’s Division of Insurance to shut it down.

And speaking of Obamacare, the advocates of ColoradoCare will have to go hat-in-hand to our Beltway masters even if the referendum produces a victory for Amendment 69. Section 1332 of Obamacare permits states to create their own customized health care systems, as long as they meet certain requirements, but a waiver must be issued by the Department of Health and Human Services. Also, the Colorado General Assembly will have to pass legislation in order to facilitate the transfer of resources from the state’s Obamacare exchange and to deal with a variety of issues relating to Medicaid, the Children’s Basic Health Plan, and Workers’ Compensation.

But, first, the referendum will have to garner a majority of “Yes” votes in November. In the end, that probably won’t happen. As Jack Healy writes in the New York Times, “The proposal’s chance of success is dubious. Colorado has a mixed record when it comes to ballot measures, though it has passed some notable ones over the years, including marijuana legalization.” And, come to think of it, the success of the reefer referendum may explain Amendment 69. Perhaps the advocates of ColoradoCare aren’t crazy after all. Maybe they’re just stoned.

David Catron
David Catron
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David Catron is a health care consultant and frequent contributor to The American Spectator. You can follow him on Twitter at @Catronicus.
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