Residents divided over universal health care proposal | SteamboatToday.com

Residents divided over universal health care proposal

Teresa Ristow

New Colorado Board of Health rules approved last week will require parents to submit exemption forms for immunizations annually to schools and child care providers

— A proposed universal health care plan on the ballot in Colorado this November is catching the attention of local residents, who are finding themselves on opposite sides of the issue.

Amendment 69 would implement a 10 percent payroll tax for all of the state's workers, with 6.7 percent paid by employers and 3.3 percent paid by employees.

Self-employed workers or business owners incomes would be taxed at 10 percent.

The estimated $25 billion or more generated annually from the new tax would be used to pay health care providers directly, eliminating most of the need for insurance companies, and removing premiums, deductibles and co-pays.

The ColoradoCare program would be run by an elected 21-member board, not the state government.

Opponents of the measure call the proposed plan flawed and point out that it would double the state's annual budget and leave Coloradans with among the highest income taxes in the nation.

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A recent independent study also questioned whether the taxes would generate enough money to keep the program running in the black after the first few years.

"(The proponents) don't seem to have the answers to how this is going to be rolled out," said Rex Brice, owner of the Steamboat Restaurant Group, which operates Rex's American Grill and Bar, Mazzola's Italian Diner, Big House Burgers, Salt & Lime and The Laundry. "We're asking the people of Colorado to vote on a proposal to come up with a plan, and that's scary to me."

Brice said the proposed new taxes would be a hardship for all restaurants but detrimental for independent restaurateurs who don't already provide insurance.

"Most restaurants out there in the country are mom-and-pop shops with 50 or less employees and aren't forced to offer Obamacare," Brice said.

Gratuity would also be subject to this 10 percent payroll tax, significantly increasing the contribution by employers with staff who earn tips, Brice said.

Brice estimated that a successful restaurant that generates $1 million in annual sales could be looking at $40,000 in additional taxes.

Despite the concerns of Brice and other business owners, local proponents say Amendment 69 presents a good solution to today's health care problems.

According to supporter Nancy Spillane, 80 percent of Coloradans will pay less than they currently are for insurance under the plan, and overall, Colorado residents will save $5 billion on health care annually.

Spillane said although the tax would make Colorado's total income tax higher than most states, insurance premiums would disappear, as would worker's compensation costs for employers.

"Your deductibles go away and your premiums go away," Spillane said.

Spillane said it's sad that so many families today find themselves overburdened by unexpected medical costs that many turn to crowdfunding websites to avoid bankruptcy.

"That's just immoral," Spillane said. "Shame on us for forcing families to do that, at their most vulnerable time."

Some opponents of the plan question whether businesses and health care providers would choose to leave Colorado while ill or injured people would move in, but Spillane said that hasn't been an issue in dozens of countries that have similar health care programs.

Spillane said she's met with Brice to discuss the impact on businesses, but she believes the bigger problem affecting restaurants today is minimum wage increases.

Brice also acknowledged that restaurants are being hit with lots of changes now, and while ColoradoCare might be beneficial for many employees, it will be tough for many small businesses.

Holiday Inn owner Scott Marr said that while he'd be comfortable paying the new health care taxes for his employees, he's worried about the 10 percent tax he and other small business owners have to pay on business owner profits.

"It's a huge impact," Marr said. "I just think that if you really work through the law, it's not a very well-thought-out plan."

Without the passage of Amendment 69, Spillane said insurance costs are expected to increase by 15 to 34 percent in the state next year.

"I don't think any plan is perfect, but for me, and for 80 percent of Coloradans, it's worth the risk," Spillane said.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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