March 23, 2011
A state health care bill has proven so unpopular with Colorado Springs Republicans that the county party called a town hall meeting Wednesday night to explain the nature of the measure and get its sponsor out of hot water.
The sponsor, however, isn’t exactly low-profile. House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, is carrying a bill in the state House that would create a new state agency called the Colorado Health Benefits Exchange.
The bill would create a financial pool that businesses could pay into and then allow employees to choose between up to 50 health insurance plans, Stephens said, instead of providing only one or two options to employees.
The bill was met with outrage amongst grassroots activists, however, who say that expanding state government is the wrong way to reform the healthcare system.
“An exchange is nothing more than a shopping mall where you can buy insurance,” Stephens explained to the standing-room-only crowd. “The beauty of this is no Human Resources person picks out your plan. You pick out your plan.”
Some who attended said they support the measure, but many weren’t buying it.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s at the state level or the federal level. Government has no business in healthcare,” said Jeff Anderson, who lives in House District 20, which Stephens represents.
Sarah Anderson, secretary of the El Paso County GOP, said a number of people were calling the bill “Amycare” and “Colorado’s prescription for federal crack addiction.”
The room pulsated with anger, said Springs resident Janice McLain. McLain said she had been inclined to support health care exchanges until she spoke to some of her “go-to” friends who had read the bill. Now she’s “very disappointed.”
Dr. Mary Zennett, of Colorado Springs, said, “If we’re so against Obamacare, why are we pushing this through? What I see in healthcare is the Titanic ready to sink.”
Several others complained about the meeting format. Instead of allowing attendees to directly ask questions, they had to be written down for Stephens to read and then answer.
“To me, it felt disrespectful,” said Irene Arndt, an alternative health care professional. “It’s like, are you listening to your constituents?”
Reactions weren’t all negative. Bob James, a precinct captain in Colorado Springs, said he switched from dead-set-against the bill to neutral after Stephens’ presentation.
James said the focal point for most people is simple.
“The critical thing is we’re still being asked to trust two more government panels,” he said.
Stephens completely won over Linda Shannon, president of the Sunrise Republican Women’s Club.
“This brings responsibility back to the states, and to the individual. It brings local decisions where they need to be in a very efficient manner,” said Shannon. “We need to do something, and the answer to me is not Obamacare.”
Stephens said afterward that she had received a good bit of positive feedback, and that she had done a solid job of outlining the bill’s aims. She admitted, though, that you can’t make everyone happy.