Election 2018Health careHot Sheet

Conservative attack dog growls at Polis for mingling with single-payer advocates

Author: Ernest Luning - July 26, 2018 - Updated: July 26, 2018

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U.S. Rep. Jared Polis waves to the crowd before accepting the Democratic nomination for the Colorado Governor’s race at an election night rally June 26 in Broomfield. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

A prominent Colorado conservative stepped up the attack Wednesday on Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jared Polis over the five-term congressman’s support for universal health care, saying his appearance at a recent conference demonstrates “how radical he is.”

Kelly Maher, executive director of  Compass Colorado, beat a familiar drumbeat in a press release, attempting to tie Polis to Amendment 69, a failed single-payer health care ballot proposal — though she doesn’t mention that Polis opposed the measure, which was shot down by 80 percent of voters two years ago.

Noting that Polis was touted as the keynoter at the Colorado Foundation for Universal Healthcare’s July 21 conference in Denver, Maher assailed him for associating with the group, which sponsored the single-payer initiative under the ColoradoCareYES banner.

“Voters can tell what’s important to the people they’re interviewing for the position of governor based on where the candidates spend their time and energy right now,” she said in a statement. “Jared Polis is lending his credibility and his ear to those responsible for the worst healthcare scheme proposal in recent history. That he is choosing to run with a small, extreme group of progressives, on an idea that was utterly rejected by Coloradans speaks to how radical he is on the issue.”

A broad spectrum of politicians and organizations — from the Independence Institute to ProgressNow Colorado — campaigned against the ballot measure, which even sympathetic critics said was poorly drafted.

Although he didn’t get behind Amendment 69, Polis’ longstanding support for a single-payer system — “Health care is a human right,” he wrote in an opinion article earlier this year, recalling he’s championed the issue for more than a decade — appears to have opened the door to a barrage of attacks from Republicans, details be damned.

It’s one thing, Polis maintains, to push for a national single-payer plan, like different versions of the Medicare-for-All legislation he’s supported, and another for a state to attempt something like that on its own, as Amendment 69 did.

“Keeping up the fight for universal coverage will take tremendous advocacy and effort from our next governor,” Polis says. “Should I have the honor of serving Colorado in that capacity, I will build upon Governor Hickenlooper’s work in advocating for comprehensive health care solutions at the regional and federal level and will fight for Medicare for All as the best solution to our rising health care costs. It’s the option that works for patients and providers, reduces costs, and improves the delivery of care.”

Polis has also proposed banding together with other western states to form a regional common payer “to reduce prices, expand coverage, and improve the quality of care,” as well as other approaches to try to expand health care access and affordability.

Maher is right that the 2016 ballot initiative went down in flames, but recent polling shows that voters could be coming around to the concept.

A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted earlier this year found that 51 percent of Americans support single-payer health care, while 43 percent oppose it.

In another study, a liberal policy group combed polling and other data to declare that Medicare for All has majority support in 42 states, including Colorado — though a pollster cautioned that the idea might be popular but hasn’t been tested yet in a general election.

From the looks of things, that test could come in Colorado this fall.

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UPDATE: Polis was scheduled to deliver the afternoon keynote address at the Colorado Foundation for Universal Healthcare conference, but due to a scheduling conflict wound up just visiting with those in attendance and didn’t speak.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.