Bookmark and Share

‘Why fear knowledge?’ I never got an answer

In an election year, some legislators like to play it safe, meaning not carry any legislation that can raise people’s hackles. I don’t subscribe to that theory. My job is to represent my district to the best of my abilities and carrying House Bill 1154 with Rep. Curry, Unaffiliated-Gunnison, was in line with that view of what you send me to Denver to do.

HB 1154 would have given legislators nonpartisan, non-special interest driven, data about legislation that proposes a new health insurance mandate. Colorado currently has over 50 mandates that affect the cost of health insurance in the small group and individual insurance markets. Few disagree that the mandates cost people with private insurance something; where the bigger debate is, how much.

New mandates have been proposed each year that I’ve been at the legislature. Some I have voted for and some I’ve voted against. Each time, I’ve been lobbied heavily by special interests who either support or oppose the bill. Each time, I’ve been flooded with input from opposing sides that simultaneously argue the essential need of the mandate or the allegedly sky high costs associated with adding the coverage to everyone’s policies.

Back in 2003, recognizing the challenges facing legislators trying to make good policy decisions, a bipartisan team carried a bill that provided a review process that all new mandate bills would have to go through. The review was to done by a special commission known as the Mandates Commission. The bill passed, but this review requirement was promptly ignored by those it was intended to help, that is, the legislators.

Rep. Curry, a close friend who represents a similarly large and rural area of the state, contacted me this fall to brainstorm about how we could receive better information about proposed health insurance bills before we voted on them. I admire Rep. Curry for many reasons, but certainly for her consistent dedication to representing her district well. She approaches her job in a notably professional, not political, manner.

We investigated the current mandate review process, spoke at length with those responsible for that process, and learned who was making it unworkable. Legislators, or more specifically, past and present leadership who had ignored requiring timely reviews before a bill is voted on. Coincidentally, this refusal to use the mandates commission happened yet again this past week on a bill mandating coverage for oral chemotherapy drugs.

So, Rep. Curry and I set out to create a better review process to get solid facts to legislators, one dedicated to finding existing data, including the impact of similar mandates in other states, and moving the review process to the nonpartisan research arm of the legislative branch that already provides us with cost information to the state for all bills.

We met with the legislative research director to ask what would make a workable process and, incorporating his feedback, we were thankful that he was willing to take on the task.

The bill also proposed a one year time out from adding new mandates while any federal health care reform takes shape, so Colorado knows what it’s dealing with from the national level. The proposed moratorium was spun into all sorts of tales in and out of the Capitol and likely will be used against Rep. Curry and me in our futures. But, on principle, we agreed that it wouldn’t be fair to the many constituents and small businesses in our area who fear even higher premiums next year and urged us to carry the bill, if we removed that from the bill.

The bill died in committee, voted against by legislators who it was intended to help make better policy decisions, especially in these tough economic times. Having heard of the likely fate of our bill, my first statement to the committee in presenting the bill was, “Why fear knowledge?” Disturbingly, I never got an answer to that question.