Colorado

Costly Medicaid Expansion Nears Approval In Colorado

Policy

The Colorado State House voted last Thursday to approve a multi-billion dollar Medicaid expansion for the state of Colorado. Colorado’s Medicaid healthcare program is administered by the state, but jointly financed with the federal government. The expansion takes advantage of provisions in President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, the Patient Provider and Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.

While Medicaid currently consumes more than 20% of Colorado’s annual budget, the Medicaid expansion bill seeks to widen the margin of people who qualify for the government program. State Senators Irene Aguilar (D-District 32) and Mark Ferrandino (D-District 2) are the two sponsors of Senate Bill 200. The current bill to expand Medicaid would increase the program’s eligibility from 100% to 133%, effectively qualifying over 160,000 additional people for the Colorado’s Medicaid system.

According to the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, “Colorado’s Medicaid enrollment is projected to grow 44% by 2014 if state lawmakers opt-in and accept the expansion proposed as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” If the Medicaid expansion SB 200 becomes law, Medicaid expenses are expected to grow by $2.5 billion between fiscal year 2011-2012 to fiscal year 2024-2025. This is estimated to consume over 27% of Colorado’s General Fund, over a quarter of the state’s overall budget.

Many in Colorado have expressed concerned about the toll the expansion will have on the budget. According to Michael Tanner from the non-profit, non-partisan Cato Institute, the added burden on Colorado’s annual budget will force the Medicaid program to pull from other state important funded programs, such as K-12 education. Concerns about the current level of Medicaid participants are also being voiced because Medicaid enrollment in the state of Colorado has already reached over 651,000.

Even the bill’s political backers are wary of the unknowns and long term effects of the expansion legislation. Jeremy Schupbach, a Legislative Liaison for Alliance Colorado, supports the bill, but admitted to Media Trackers that the state budget will have to expand to accommodate the significant extra cost, or other essential programs will have to be cut.

“We see it [the expansion] as potentially good by allowing access to better care, although we are wary of how the state budget will expand,” Schupbach said. Alliance Colorado represents Medicaid participants with developmental disabilities. Schupbach also said that his organization will be keeping a close eye on the people his group represents so that they are not financially shorted in any way with the influx of new Medicaid participants.

While the Medicaid expansion bill extends the qualifications for Medicaid participants by widening the state’s participation in government funded healthcare, SB-200 also narrows certain aspects of state funded healthcare recipients by limiting healthcare for the elderly.

According to the bill, “The cash funds appropriation from the old age pension health and medical care fund created in section 7 (c) of Article XXIV of the Colorado constitution is decreased by $1,745,639, for the old age pension state medical program” (SB-200, Section 3, Point 18-20). This section of the legislation would severely limit Colorado’s elderly from receiving state-funded healthcare.

The SB  200 Medicaid expansion bill was introduced on March 1, 2013. It passed the Senate on April 15, and passed the House on April 26 in a 36-23 vote which split closely along party lines.

Follow Kyle Forti on Twitter: @kyleforti

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