Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner explains work on health reform as protests continue

Author: Peter Marcus - June 15, 2017 - Updated: June 18, 2017

Protesters gather at the Capitol in Denver on Tuesday to oppose Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. (Photo courtesy of the “Eulogy and March for Colorado Health Care”)

Rallies against a Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act continued in Colorado this week, as Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner remains hopeful for a bipartisan solution on health reform.

Health-care workers and patients marched to Gardner’s office in Denver on Tuesday, claiming the GOP is “attacking” health care coverage.

“If we end up with Trumpcare, nobody is really sure what will be covered and that’s a little scary for us because Medicaid covers everything,” said Elizabeth Colatrella, a Medicaid beneficiary who has multiple sclerosis and participated in the march.

The group says Republicans in Congress are “fast-tracking” a “partisan” health care repeal bill in secrecy. There is speculation that a vote on a Senate proposal could come in early July, though those reports are unsubstantiated and there is still no final measure that has been drafted.

“I keep hearing arguments about how it’s taking so long to come up with a bill, and then people are talking about how it’s being fast-tracked,” Gardner quipped. “This is a complicated issue that we need to get right .… We want to make sure that this actually does a better job than Obamacare.”

But critics of the GOP effort say Republicans are hiding negotiations from the public because the outcome of the proposal would be dire for Americans.

“They know that once the public sees the details of how the bill dramatically increases costs, guts patient protections, and will result in millions fewer covered, support will plummet – just like it did when nearly the same bill made it through the House,” read a statement from the protesters, which included unions and health care workers.

House Republicans proposed replacing the Affordable Care Act with a plan that would roll back Medicaid expansion starting in 2019. Federal reimbursements to states would be cut. Instead, the federal government would give states a capped amount of money for each Medicaid enrollee, or let states choose to receive a block grant.

The Senate legislation is being crafted behind closed doors, so details remain murky.

Gardner said proposals around capping Medicaid dollars to the states and block grants are a part of the Senate discussions, though no decisions have been made. The senator added that states would need flexibility and time to transition to the changes.

Gardner said he would like to preserve Medicaid, but in a way that is sustainable.

“If you don’t have a sustainable Medicaid program, then you risk the Medicaid programs; if you don’t have individual insurance to purchase, then you can’t cover people with preexisting conditions because there’s no insurance for them to buy.”

Republicans have lamented over spiking health insurance costs since the Affordable Care Act was enacted. Rural Colorado has seen some of the largest increases in the state.

The senator would like to preserve coverage for preexisting conditions in the Senate version of reform, while also empowering a “competitive marketplace” to lower the price of insurance.

Proposals are being discussed by a group of 13 Republican lawmakers, including Gardner, instead of through the committee process. While complaints are being raised that it is a secretive process, those who are a part of the negotiations are calling it a “working group” aimed at reaching a deal that can be tolerated by both sides of the aisle.

“This is the outcome of the Affordable Care Act, which was passed in the most partisan of fashions. Not a single Republican vote was a part of it,” Gardner said. “I hope that can change. I hope Democrats will start working on a solution.”

He added that his office has been speaking with Colorado hospital associations, physician associations, constituents and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, a former hospital executive who has made health policy a priority since taking office.

Gardner was part of a group of Republicans that met with President Trump on Tuesday. The president has signaled that he would like to see a “generous” and “kind” measure that can rally bipartisan support.

“We have to in order to save the American people from a collapsing Obamacare, and I hope it has bipartisan support,” Gardner said.

One issue is the impact changes might have on business owners and hospital administrators. A recent survey by Womply, which collects data for small businesses, found that Colorado’s estimated 570,000 small businesses are “sharply divided” on health care reform.

Thirty-one percent of local merchants said their sentiment towards repeal of the ACA “depends on what replaced it.” Twenty percent said ACA repeal would have “no impact” on their businesses, while 17 percent said it would be negative and 26 percent said it would be positive.

“The vast majority of businesses that I’m meeting with, they’re not telling me don’t do anything because we don’t want to change the way we’ve been doing it,” Gardner said. “They say, ‘Please do something because we can’t afford health care and it’s got to change.’”

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus is senior statehouse reporter for Colorado Politics. He covers the legislature and previously covered politics, the governor’s office, the legislature and Congress for The Durango Herald. He joined The Herald in 2014 from The Colorado Statesman, a Denver-based political weekly. The Washington Post twice named Marcus one of the nation’s top state-based political and legislative reporters.


  • Mary Hertert

    June 16, 2017 at 9:33 am

    Senator Gardner,

    the danger I see to the private working group of 13 republicans is that you are bypassing the democratic process. Obamacare passed with no republican votes because several of your party dug your heels in and refused to vote ‘anything Obama’ followed by 50 attempts to derail the legislation rather than find common ground with others in Congress to find the best that could come from the legislation.

    You are continuing to support the small group of men who believe your way is the only way and I, for one, resent it and believe it to be anti-democratic process. You have a right to your opinion and passion but you don’t have a right to disregard the wishes of your constituents who want the health care debate open and bipartisan. There is nothing bipartisan about the secrecy of your ‘working’ group. Be wary of kicking down weight bearing walls without providing solid supports because it is assured the roof will fall.

  • Donald E. L. Johnson

    June 16, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    Sen. Cory Gardner should not defend Gov. Hickenlooper’s irresponsible expansion of Medicaid enrollments and expenses for Colorado and the feds. He can’t outspend Democrats, and they’ll never be satisfied with what he does spend.

    Gardner’s defense of Big Intrusive Government Obamacare (#ACA) is costing him the support of his critical GOP base. Obamacare moochers won’t vote for him regardless.

    What is needed are Small Government reforms of Medicaid and Obamacare.

    1. Strip all mandated health care benefits out of federal regulations and laws. The states are doing enough damage with mandated benefits without the Feds involvement.
    2. Repeal all federal laws that prevent the sale of catastrophic health insurance to consumers who want to self-insure their primary care, preventive care and wellness care.
    3. Shrink medicaid enrollments. Serve the truly poor who can’t take or keep jobs that pay enough to buy catastrophic health insurance. Call Medicaid a welfare program, not a phony “insurance” scheme. You can’t insure wrecked cars or severely ill people with numerous co-morbidities. Carefully define “uninsurable” and “pre-existing conditions” so crooks and moochers can’t game the system.
    4. End all mandates for employers to offer insurance of any kind to workers. Get insurers out of the health benefits business because they are too conflicted to be honest brokers.
    5. Repeal all taxes in Obamacare, which is a wealth and income redistribution scheme, not a health insurance program for patients.

  • Michelle

    June 16, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    Kudos to Gardner!
    As you go through life you will learn that the squeaky wheels are usually the little bitty ones.
    The crowd protesting is naturally paid for by a Soros group, and they appear to be those for whom Obamacare is a freebie.
    But Colorado itself has lost several major insurance companies and it is looking at such a big deficit that hospitals will eventually have to close.
    All those in the picture protesting will then blame the Republicans for Obamacare failures.
    On the bright side, the new GOP healthcare bill did pass the House and those who cobbled it together expect some alterations. That’s called Democracy.
    What the GOP really has a hard time doing is letting go of the side of the pool to find out how great the water is. By that I mean the GOP needs to extract the IRS from healthcare entirely.
    People cannot afford Obamacare and those that manage to do so cannot afford to pay the deductible of $5000 per family member. It’s cheaper to see a veterinarian.
    BUT the worst part of it is that everyone in the Senate and the House has exempted themselves from Obamacare, and it appears they want no part of the next bill.
    Try to write a bill that will cover all those working in the Federal Government and those elected to make these decisions.
    Rome was not built in a day.
    A healthcare bill cannot be engineered in six months. But your constituents have heard you say for 6 years you would repeal Obamacare and we are expecting something this year.

  • Ernie

    June 17, 2017 at 10:10 am

    The State and Federal Government shares the cost of Medicaid
    Medicaid is the only health insurance program that pay for Long Term Health Care ( LTC).
    LTC = nursing home care or services in your home help keep your out of a nursing home.
    The average cost of nursing home care in 2012 was $95 K per year. Imagine the cost in 2020, 2030, etc
    All but the wealthy will need the Government to pay for their nursing home care ( either at home or in an nursing home )

    Keep that in mind as you check these stats from
    2012. ( 40 Must-Know Statistics About Long-Term Care – Morningstar

    79 – Average age upon admittance to a nursing home.
    40%- upon attaining the age of 65 the chances you or your significant other may one day need LTC services
    892 days (2.44 years): Average length of stay for current nursing-home resident

    Now check out these census figures ( 70 million of us will be 65 by 2020 )

    and you think it is alright to Bock grant Medicaid?

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