It’s A Colorado Rocky Mountain Low

May 23rd, 2016 by Tom Lynch

Since 2003, when Julie Ferguson and I created Workers’ Comp Insider, we’ve tried to keep bias off the keyboard. Careful objectivity is “a consummation devoutly to be wished.”

For reasons you’ll understand as you read, I want to assure readers that in this post we try to hold to that rule.

Last week, we wrote of actual and metaphorical earthquakes shaking Oklahoma to its core. Today, we write of another metaphorical earthquake, but now it’s Colorado’s turn. It’s a story about a three-car crash involving some well-meaning, but perhaps shortsighted, Coloradans, the state’s leading workers’ compensation insurer and Bernie Sanders. Yup. That guy.

Colorado is a lovely state with wonderful people who just happen to be the fittest in America. Although the obesity rate is 21.3%, it’s the lowest in the nation. Blue sky, clean air, great outdoors, what’s not to love?

In Colorado, the well-meaning, but perhaps shortsighted, people have succeeded in getting on the November ballot Amendment 69 to the Colorado constitution. Amendment 69 creates ColoradoCare, which is universal health care for all Colorado residents, illegal aliens included. Nice idea, you probably think. Good for them, eh?

I wish it were that simple.

The known and unknown unintended consequences of Amendment 69, as well as the profound way it impacts and is impacted by a host of other programs, regulations and laws, both federal and state, are overwhelmingly mind-numbing.

But don’t take my word for it. If you’re up for it, read this cogent, well-written, 38-page, highly detailed legal analysis of Amendment 69 by Gerald Niederman and Jennifer Evans, Attorneys with the Polsinelli law firm. The pair were commissioned by the Colorado Health Foundation to dig deep into the crease of what enacting ColoradoCare will mean for the state, and a lot of it will make your eyes roll. Here’s an image. Imagine for a moment a great big camel. Now imagine two or three hundred of Colorado’s fittest trying to push the south-bound end of the north-bound camel through the very small eye of a teeny-tiny needle and you’ll get the point.

Which brings us to the state’s leading workers’ compensation insurer, Pinnacol Assurance, because one of ColoradoCare’s  provisions (discussed on page 34 of the Niederman Evans analysis) is to take over medical care for all work injuries, medical care that since 1915 has been provided through Colorado’s workers’ compensation statute. As you might imagine, this does not sit well with Pinnacol. Pinnacol has many reasons for not being a fan of Amendment 69, all of which are spelled out in Amendment 69 Would Demolish Colorado’s Stable Workers’ Comp System, by Edie Sohn, Pinnacol’s Vice President of Communication and Public Affairs.

At this point, enter, stage left, Senator Bernie Sanders.

As we all know, Senator Sanders’s proposals are highly idealistic. And his supporters are certainly, shall we say, rather exuberant. Regardless, I doubt if either the Senator or those supporters have ever seen Amendment 69. Still, that didn’t stop him from opining the following:

“Colorado could lead the nation in moving toward a system to ensure better health care for more people at less cost,” Senator Sanders said in a statement to The Colorado Independent.”

Say what? “Less cost?” Hmmm. Even proponents of ColoradoCare say it will cost $25 billion, will double the size of the state budget, will be paid by a 10% tax increase on employers and employees and will make Colorado the highest tax state in the nation.

And what will it do to workers’ compensation? Here’s how Pinnacol’s Edie Sohn describes what she considers to be the coming catastrophe:

Why is Pinnacol concerned about changing the health care system? Under current law, workers’ comp insurance covers the health care needs of injured workers and replaces their lost wages for as long as they are out of work. But ColoradoCare would bring the medical payments of workers’ comp under its umbrella.

The proponents of the amendment say that doing so will save Colorado businesses money because their work comp premiums will go down. Of course, those costs aren’t going away, they’re simply being shifted to the health care system. And any workers’ comp savings will be eroded quickly by lower worker productivity and increased indemnity costs. That’s because ColoradoCare won’t have mechanisms in place to do all the things Pinnacol does: work with employers to keep workers safe and minimize the potential for injury, and work with doctors to help injured workers get back to work in a timely and safe way.

Even allowing for a bit of rhetorical spin, Ms. Sohn makes a compelling case, especially in the area of return to work.

For a somewhat contrarian and intelligent view, you may want to read this blog post from the highly-respected Charles Gaba: COLORADO: OK, Single Payer Fans: Here’s your chance to make it happen. Mr. Gaba points out that he is a “fan” of the single payer concept, but does not believe it has the support to happen on a national scale for quite some time. Rather, he thinks the way to achieve it is through individual states, and, although not endorsing ColoradoCare, he thinks, “It’s more realistic and far better thought out than Bernie’s national plan is.”

One thing on which we can all agree is this: November 2016’s election day will be interesting, indeed. I can only hope it is also peaceful and shows off American democracy in its very best light.