Conservative group sounds alarm over health care’s rapidly rising share of Colorado state budget
Author: Ernest Luning - April 7, 2017 - Updated: April 9, 2017
Colorado’s state budget has jumped by more than 19 percent over the last decade, measured in constant dollars, a free-market think tank says in a report delivered at the Capitol this week as lawmakers weigh next year’s budget. And nearly all of that increased spending has gone to health care, the study by the Common Sense Policy Roundtable found.
“As state lawmakers debate priorities for the $26.8 billion budget, we believe it critical that they consider the biggest cost drivers,” said Earl Wright, AMG National Trust Bank chairman and chairman of the Roundtable’s board of directors.
“For instance,” he continued, “Colorado is now spending $666 more per citizen than it did 10 years ago after adjusting for inflation, an increase of over 19 percent. Of the increase in spending per citizen, over 99 percent has gone to Health Care Policy & Financing. One has to wonder if the public expected this outcome from the past 10 years of budget increases.”
In a “snapshot” depicting changes in state spending since 2006, the Roundtable points out that the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing’s share of the total state budget has increased from just over 20 percent to nearly 34 percent last year, while spending as a percentage of the budget has slipped for transportation, public health and the environment, human services and K-12 education.
In addition, the snapshot maintains,the state is spending nearly $1,400 per resident on health care, almost twice what it was spending on a per-resident basis a decade ago, adjusted for inflation.
The jump in health care spending is largely the result of the state’s participation in Medicaid expansion as part of the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Much of the money comes from the federal government — 90 percent of the Medicaid dollars for residents enrolled under the Obamacare expansion and 50 percent for Coloradans who qualify for the program for other reasons.
The Roundtable, which includes some of the state’s more prominent conservative and Republican stalwarts among its board of directors and staff, delivered a snapshot of its findings to House members on Thursday along with cookies iced to resemble the Colorado state flag. The group handed the goodies — and the report — to senators last week, when that chamber was debating the budget.
Roundtable board member Jack Graham, who ran second in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate nomination last year and is considering a run for governor in next year’s election, sounded the alarm over health care spending. He argued that it’s swamping the rest of the state’s budget and sapping Colorado’s ability to afford everything else residents expect.
“Clearly health care is driving our budget at the expense of K-12 education, transportation, the environment and human services,” Graham told The Colorado Statesman on Thursday. “Most Coloradans don’t fully understand the magnitude of the impact our federal health care policies are having on our state and the quality of our lives.”
Graham said it’s important to consider the expansion of health care benefits in Colorado — as well as increased federal subsidies to pay for them — as something state policy-makers are choosing.
“We need to think about this as a choice and understand that it comes at a huge cost: more expense for each of us, inferior educational opportunities for our kids, congested and decaying roads, and little to pay for mass transportation,” he said. “We have to be practical about health care and we must deliver it more efficiently. We can do that. This is a core issue for us in Colorado and we need to take it head on. Washington isn’t going to solve this — and so we must.”
The think tank, based in Greenwood Village, tracks economic development legislation and policy initiatives. It’s taken a particular interest this session in resolving longstanding disputes between developers and condominium owners over construction defect laws.
In addition to Wright and Graham, other Roundtable board members include CU Regent Heidi Ganahl, founder of the Camp Bow Wow dog care business; Jack Hays, executive vice president of the West Slope Oil and Gas association and a leader in the oil field services industry; real estate developer Buz Koelbel, Jr., of Koelbel and Company; oil industry titan T. Scott Martin; Nexgen Resources Corporation CEO Charlie MacNeil; Terry Stevinson, president of Stevinson Group, Inc., the family company that owns Stevinson Automotive and Stevinson Realty, Inc.; and Squire Patton Boggs public affairs and policy specialist Lem Smith. Kristin Strohm is the organization’s executive director, and Jake Zambrano is its legislative director.