By Peter Marcus, THE DENVER DAILY NEWS
Libertarian Jon Caldara on Friday submitted more than 130,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office seeking to place a question on the November ballot asking voters to exempt Colorado from major portions of federal health reform signed by President Obama in March.
Caldara said he was “thrilled” to have submitted the signatures on Friday after originally struggling to gather signatures. The deadline for turning in signatures for 2010 initiatives is today.
As part of his effort, Caldara fought a new state law prohibiting citizens from paying circulators by the signature. Circulators must be paid mostly by the hour. Critics say the law has resulted in quotes jumping in price by the equivalent of about $2 per signature.
Caldara and marijuana advocate Mason Tvert sued the state over the law, arguing that the new law has driven up the cost of collecting signatures so high that it has become almost impossible to run a citizen initiative.
A U.S. District Court judge in June issued an injunction against the law, allowing Caldara to move forward with his initiative.
The Health Care Choice for Colorado initiative asks voters to exempt Colorado from recent federal health care reform, including a provision requiring citizens and business owners to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. Caldara says the initiative would also prevent the government from forcing people into a public or private health care plan against their will.
Critics, however, say federal health reform does not force people into specific plans.
Caldara is confident that the initiative will be certified for the November ballot, pointing out that proponents submitted about 50,000 more signatures than needed. He says his initiative is about choice.
“We’re going to make Colorado a sanctuary state for quality health care,” he said. “How they can argue that Coloradans should not have choice in their health care, in that somehow it’s good to force people into health care plans they do not want, is mystifying to me.”
Kjersten Forseth, interim executive director of ProgressNow Colorado, said the health care overhaul does not force people into plans. She says Americans still have choice over what plans they choose and what doctors they see.
She says Caldara’s ballot initiative would tear apart the reform effort, impacting how seniors pay for prescription drugs, how children receive care, how students receive insurance, and how people with pre-existing medical conditions find insurance, to name a few concerns.
“It’s important for people to understand how absolutely detrimental it would be for us to repeal health care reform É” said Forseth. “There’s just some really important parts of health care reform that we can’t afford to lose, and that we’ve been looking so forward to.”
An opposition campaign, Colorado Deserves Better, was announced on Friday, including a coalition of physicians, hospitals, consumer advocates and religious organizations. They say Caldara’s initiative would isolate Colorado from health care costs savings by shrinking the risk pool.
“In this economy, higher health care prices mean trouble for Colorado,” Edie Sonn, spokesman for the Colorado Medical Society, said in a statement. “Caldara’s amendment does exactly that: cost us money.”
Caldara acknowledges that if his initiative is backed by voters, it will likely be challenged in court.
Meanwhile, Republican Attorney General John Suthers has joined with 19 other states in a lawsuit to exempt Colorado from provisions of the sweeping health care overhaul. The lawsuit alleges that Congress does not have the authority to regulate interstate commerce that would force consumers to carry health insurance.
The U.S. Department of Justice in June filed a motion to dismiss the constitutional challenge to the federal health care overhaul. A response is expected this week.
Republican state lawmakers are also planning legislation that would exempt Colorado from a federal mandate requiring all citizens to buy insurance or pay a penalty, as well as other aspects of the overhaul.
Caldara says he is confident voters will back his initiative.
“This one’s going to be hard to lose,” he said. “I don’t know how you can go up and say it’s a good thing to take away health care choice.”