“Colorado can send a shot that will be heard all over this country, and all over the world,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told a cheering crowd of people in Boulder on Oct. 17 during a rally to support the approval of a universal healthcare system through the Amendment 69 ballot proposal.
“If you can pass ColoradoCare,” Sanders added during that October rally, “I can guarantee you states all over this country will be following in your footsteps.”
Sanders was just one of the supporters of Amendment 69 who came in from across the nation to advise Coloradans to vote for the proposal. Philosopher Noam Chomsky and filmmaker Michael Moore also added their voices to the ColoradoCare campaign.
Colorado did send a message heard ’round the nation and the world, just not the message Sen. Sanders, Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, nor anyone in the crowd wanted to hear: single-payer healthcare is not for Colorado.
By an overwhelming margin, Colorado voters rejected Amendment 69 on Nov. 8. The plan was crushed by an almost 4-1 margin, with an 80 percent “no” vote.
The proposal would have junked most private health insurance plans for a state-run, single-payer system, known as ColoradoCare.
If it had passed, a 21-member panel would have then been elected to operate it and make policy decisions.
The cost was tremendous.
Amendment 69’s $36 billion annual budget would have dwarfed the $33 billion spent by all of Colorado’s state government in 2015.
Who would pay?
Proponents of 69 banked on new income and payroll taxes as well as federal funding to pay for the program. They needed at least $25 billion in new taxes to cover just the first year of operation in 2019.
ColoradoYes backers pointed out that state residents, all of whom would have been covered, would have to make co-payments under ColoradoCare, but they would never have had to pay another insurance premium and would no longer have had to worry about deductibles.
Still, Kelly Brough, CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and chair of the opposition group Coloradans for Coloradans, told Colorado Public Radio the cost scared people away from voting “yes.”
“I definitely think the impact on our smallest of businesses and working families caused Coloradans great concern that they would bear the brunt of paying for this,” she said. “They saw it as clearly risky, untested, and fiscally irresponsible.”
Even some Democrats, like Gov. John Hickenlooper, said they were unable to support Amendment 69.
Hickenlooper told Fox 31 TV he was afraid Coloradans would lose everything that Obamacare had accomplished.
“We’ve worked hard to change and expand coverage for healthcare for more people,” Hickenlooper said. “I think Amendment 69 is throwing out the old system.”
A Magellan Strategies survey taken in late August showed only 27 percent of respondents planned to vote “yes” while 65 percent said they would vote against 69. The rest were undecided.
Colorado voters do have a history of rejecting significant tax increases, such as the 10 percent increase in the state income tax that would have been required by Amendment 69. So while the dream of universal healthcare was attractive, the cost —voters told Magellan Strategies — was just too high.
Who can blame them? Voters were bombarded with conflicting information from both sides. One study showed an elderly couple would save nearly $2,000 per year with ColoradoCare. But another study showed the couple paying nearly $1,800 more per year, or maybe even more.
Owen Perkins, ColoradoCare Yes campaign spokesman, admitted to the Denver Post that voters were having a tough time “wrapping their heads around” Amendment 69.
“I don’t think it ever had a prayer from the beginning,” state Sen. Tim Neville (R), an opponent of Amendment 69, told the Denver Business Journal. “I think people saw it was just an expansion of government healthcare, which hasn’t worked.”
One Amendment 69 supporter wrote on the ColoradoYes Facebook page that she was “in tears” when the results of the vote were known, because of “how badly 69 lost.”
“I so ashamed that we could not come together on this,” Robyn Arms wrote.
However, ColoradoCare advocate Lyn Gullette replied that they should be proud that “21 percent of the people did get it, which means there are a lot of people in Colorado [who] understand that a universal healthcare system would be a gift to the people and were not fooled [by] any the vicious anti-69 ads.”
Less than a week later, Gullette posted on the group’s Facebook page that new organizational meetings would be held in the days ahead with an eye toward the next move to enact universal healthcare in Colorado.
“We are not going to rest until everyone in Colorado has access to quality, affordable healthcare,” state Sen. Irene Aguilar, M.D., posted on the ColoradoCare Yes Facebook page after the defeat.
Colorado Public Radio reported author T.R. Reid, who helped lead the ColoradoCare campaign, told a crowd of disappointed supporters on Election Night they’ll try again.
“People who thought they were stuck with the insurance companies and stuck with our rotten healthcare system now realize there’s a way out,” he said. “There’s a better way and we’ve shown it to them, and we’re going to pass it this year or next.”