Posted on 24 April 2010.
By Debi Brazzale, COLORADO NEWS AGENCY
It may only be a couple of dollars, but House lawmakers Friday debated whether a surcharge on health insurance premiums and dental plans was an unconstitutional new tax or a benign step toward helping the families whose developmentally disabled children have catastrophic illnesses.
A catastrophic illness is defined as an illness or condition with expenses that exceed 10 percent of a families’ income, or 15 percent of family income over $100,000.
House Bill 1103, sponsored by Rep. Nancy Todd, D- Aurora, would place a $1 surcharge on health insurance policies and dental plans in Colorado , and monies would be directly deposited into the newly created Relief Fund for Children with a Catastrophic Medical Condition within the state treasury. An estimated $2 million would be collected annually.
Todd acknowledges that the money raised by the fee would only cover approximately 10 percent of the need that currently exists, but she said moving forward with the measure is a needed gesture.
“This is one way we can support them when in so many other ways we cannot,” said Todd.
Republicans pushed back, arguing that the measure amounted to an unconstitutional tax under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, and said their opposition to the measure was based on constitutional questions, not the merits of the program, which they lauded. The GOP’s Spencer Swalm, of Centennial, said the terms “fee” and “tax” are not interchangeable.
“This is a, quote, ‘fee’ that is being attached to insurance policies but has nothing to do with the administration of the policy,” said Swalm. “This is unconstitutional and a tax that should be put before the voters.”
Another GOP lawmaker, Rep. Jim Kerr, of Littleton, said that above and beyond the TABOR issues, the measure would create winners and losers because the overwhelming need for the families exceeds the abilities of the fund.
“How are we going to determine the winners and losers? Who gets the Lotto–who doesn’t get the Lotto?” asked Kerr.
Rep. Diane Primavera, D-Broomfield, rejected Kerr’s argument that the measure should not be approved because it appears to pick winners and losers.
“I don’t support the philosophy that if you can’t help everyone you don’t help anybody,” said Primavera.
Addressing the limited funding, Republicans suggested that the amount available in the fund would increase if the measure also included state employees who have health and dental insurance plans–who are currently exempted from the surcharge according to legal sources consulted by the GOP members.