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Colorado Voters Reject Single-Payer System, 79–21 Percent

December 14, 2016

Amendment 69 to the Colorado Constitution would have established a single-payer health care system and was soundly defeated at the ballot box on November 8.

By a large majority, Colorado voters rejected ballot measure Amendment 69, a proposal to create ColoradoCare, a statewide single-payer health care system, in the General Election in November.

More than two million Colorado voters, nearly 79 percent of the total, cast ballots against Amendment 69, while 562,707, about 21 percent, approved of the measure, according to the Colorado secretary of state’s office.

Supporters of Amendment 69 included U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Colorado state Sen. Irene Aguilar (D-Denver), and several labor unions.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and more than half the members of the Colorado General Assembly opposed establishing the single-payer system.

Dodged a Deficit Bomb

ColoradoCare would have made the state government the sole payer of health care costs and would have required a $25 billion fund in its first year, which would have been paid for by new 10 percent payroll tax and imposing an additional 10 percent tax on non-payroll income, raising the state’s tax rate on non-payroll income from 4.63 percent to 14.63 percent..

Taxes funding the single-payer system would have been exempt from Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which requires tax increases exceeding population growth and inflation be approved by ballot measure.

ColoradoCare would have run a deficit of $253 million in 2019, its first year of implementation, and a deficit of almost $8 billion in 2028, according to a study published by the Colorado Health Institute in August 2016. Amendment 69 would have established a 21-person board to manage the health care system.

‘Abject Failure’ with Voters

Linda Gorman, director of the Health Care Policy Center at the Independence Institute, says Colorado voters recognized ColoradoCare as a leviathan government proposal threatening residents’ freedom and prosperity.

“The abject failure of Amendment 69 shows that Colorado voters understand that government is the problem in health care, not the solution,” Gorman said. “The better people understood the amendment, the less they liked it. They understood that high taxes will impede economic growth and make entry-level jobs hard to find. They understood that a centrally planned health care system would be an open invitation for cronyism, waste, high costs, and poor quality care.”

As an alternative to Amendment 69, Colorado should enact market-based reforms that decrease government control over people’s health care decisions, Gorman says.

“Good reforms will let people decide how much health insurance they want to purchase, put subsidy money in the hands of patients rather than bureaucrats, and free both patients and providers from excessive regulatory controls,” Gorman said.

Bipartisan Opposition

Jonathan Lockwood, executive director of Advancing Colorado, a free-market advocacy group, says the defeat of Amendment 69 also benefits other states battling single-payer proposals.

“The massive defeat of Amendment 69 should send a strong message to single-payer advocates across the country,” Lockwood said. “Coloradans massively rejected a single-payer health care system because they saw it for what it is.”

Progressive groups such as Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, and Pro-Choice Colorado argued ColoradoCare would limit access to abortions.

Lockwood says the fire ColoradoCare drew from both progressive and conservative wings indicates the magnitude of its flaws.

“When you have Democrats and Republicans opposing the same proposal, it shows how poorly crafted the ballot proposal really was and how terrible a political campaign Amendment 69 proponents ran,” Lockwood said. “The ColoradoCare campaign lied about this proposal from the beginning and kept lying throughout the entire campaign. They dodged really critical questions.”

Michael McGrady (mcgrady@mcgradypolicyresearch.org) writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Image via Thinkstock

Author
Michael McGrady writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado.
mmcgrady@uccs.edu