Colorado’s Gov. John Hickenlooper vows to defend health care access | MyWindsorNow.com

Colorado’s Gov. John Hickenlooper vows to defend health care access

Associated Press

Colorado's health care exchange isn't going anywhere soon.

That's the word from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who told the state's 100 lawmakers in his annual state of the state address Thursday that he will resist any attempt to roll back the federal health care law that requires everyone to get health insurance.

"I think most of us would agree that the last thing we would want is Congress making all of our decisions around health care," said Hickenlooper, who has increasingly invoked a states' rights argument — one often used by Republicans on such issues as gun rights — to defend Colorado's health care and marijuana markets.

But, Hickenlooper added, "If changes are inevitable, I will fight for a replacement plan that protects the people who are covered now and doesn't take us backward."

Republicans in Congress are working to defund the Affordable Care Act enacted under President Barack Obama without having drafted a replacement. In Colorado, Republicans who control the state Senate introduced a bill this week to disband Colorado's health insurance exchange by 2019.

Senate Republican Leader Chris Holbert of Parker told reporters after the speech Colorado shouldn't maintain its health care system despite national changes.

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"We need to watch to see what Congress does, about whether they repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act," Holbert said.

Republicans' health care bill has no chance in the Democrat-led House.

Still, Hickenlooper noted, "we'll soon have a new president, and it is clear that the new administration and Congress seek a different relationship between the federal government and the states."

More than 200,000 Coloradans depend on the state exchange and 1 in 5 residents is covered by Medicaid, whose costs have expanded drastically.

But there are substantial inequities. Insurers have fled rural regions; West Slope residents have just one, and they pay some of the highest premiums in the nation.

Hickenlooper embraced a shared commitment by Democrats and Republicans to spend more for roads and promote housing construction in the rapidly-growing state. He didn't provide specifics on how to tackle $9 billion worth of road improvements over the next decade, but he did say the general fund was off-limits.

"Voters are tired of us kicking the can down the road, because they know it's going to land in a pothole," Hickenlooper said.

The governor asked lawmakers to find a way to fund public education without sacrificing other core government services. K-12 schools funding depends on the ups and downs of often-conflicting constitutional spending rules, and it competes each year with prisons, health care and transportation for funding.

Hickenlooper has proposed a $28.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. It calls on lawmakers to eliminate a $500 million deficit.

The governor also:

» Said he is creating an office dedicated to get high-speed internet to all of Colorado by 2020. "Fiber optic cables are today's power lines for farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses," he said.

» Called for $6 million to help local police and prosecutors find illegal marijuana grows and prosecute those responsible. Loopholes in home grow and medical caregiver laws have allowed a black market to flourish, Hickenlooper said.

Weld County reaction

After Gov. John Hickenlooper delivered his state of the state of the state address, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck reacted, vowing to work with the governor on two of his proposals aimed at strengthening rural Colorado.

“I plan to support and work with his effort to bring broadband to rural Colorado by 2020, and I hope to collaborate with his proposed rural economic development director to improve job opportunities for people across the 4th Congressional District,” he said in a prepared statement. “Through a collaboration of federal, state, and local efforts, I’m confident we can help rural Colorado thrive.”

In his statement, Buck, a Windsor Republican, did not address Hickenlooper’s vow to keep Colorado insurance exchange intact, even as Congressional Republicans work to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The act, known as Obamacare, gave rise to Colorado’s exchange.

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