by Senator Irene Aguilar

Earlier this week, ProgressNow, a nonprofit that claims to support progressive issues, came out against ColoradoCare/Amendment 69. With this decision, the organization abandoned the people of Colorado and joined forces with status quo establishment politicians and profit- driven private insurers who make it their business to deny care to those who need it most. ProgressNow abandoned legendary progressive voices like Noam Chomsky, who endorsed ColoradoCare in July, and joined forces with corporate insurance lobbyists and Big Pharma, who are spending millions of dollars to spread fear and lies about universal health care.

By opposing ColoradoCare, ProgressNow showed it is not looking for real progress, and certainly not now. But real progress is exactly what the people of Colorado need. Right now.

Our current health care system is broken. Corporate insurers care about their wealth, not our health. One million (one out of five) Coloradans are underinsured. 350,000 Coloradans have no insurance. 535 Coloradans die each year because we cannot afford the care we need. The sick, poor, and elderly, terms that apply to most of us at some point, are often stuck with inadequate care and costly medical bills.

Meanwhile, profits under the corporate system are skyrocketing. Corporate insurance rates for next year are forecast to rise sharply — by as much as 40 percent for one insurer — and there’s no end in sight. Aetna’s 2nd quarter profits were up 8.5 percent from last year. They made a profit of $783.3 million, and CEO Mark Bertolini took home $27.9 million. Still, Aetna was “losing money” with the sick, those who actually need coverage, and so it is pulling out of the Affordable Care Act exchanges in 11 states to focus on more lucrative markets.

Having worked as a primary care physician at Denver Health for 18 years, I have witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of the inability to afford basic health care. In 2007, I had the privilege of serving on the Vulnerable Populations Task Force of Colorado’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Health Care Reform. The commission’s analysis showed that by enacting a single payer financing system, Colorado could afford full access to health care for every resident and decrease spending by $1.6 billion dollars in its first year. I was certain that the commission would recommend this plan. Imagine my dismay when I was told by the chair of the House Committee on Health and Human Services: “That’s all good and well, Dr. Aguilar, but this will never happen in the United States.”

I decided to turn that dismay into action. I determined to find a way to save lives and money and help Colorado become the first state in the nation to enact a universal health care system.

The rest is history: HB 09-1273, SB 11-168, SCR 13-02, SJR 13-021. Many of my colleagues in the Legislature and I fought to enact real change but were blocked at every turn by the influence of big money, the insurance industry and political cowardice.

In 2015 a referendum was drafted but not introduced at the request of the s peaker of the House. When this happened, a group of activists working on universal health care took action and put Amendment 69, ColoradoCare, on the ballot. We again asked “progressive” allies to stand with us. They had every opportunity to bring up their concerns.

But ProgressNow is not the only progressive opposition. NARAL opposed ColoradoCare because of a potential conflict with coverage for abortion.

As a champion of women’s rights I support Amendment 69, ColoradoCare, despite NARAL’s opposition. Why?

ColoradoCare does not make abortion illegal. At issue is whether ColoradoCare can pay for abortions because of a constitutional amendment that forbids using state funds for abortions. While ColoradoCare may be prevented from paying for abortion (except in cases of rape, incest and risk to the health of the mother) it will decrease unintended pregnancies, decrease abortions, and save lives.

I also dispute the House majority leader’s assertion that Amendment 69, ColoradoCare, would adversely impact our state budget. Colorado’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Health Care reform projected a budget surplus with a single-payer plan. Economist Gerald Friedman’s 2013 analysis of ColoradoCare projected a savings of $4.5 billion dollars, and the state’s fiscal note of Senate Concurrent Resolution 13-002 projected savings to our state budget.

Please read the full report of the Colorado Health Institute. While I greatly respect their work, this report made two inaccurate assumptions. First, they assumed that Medicaid funding under a waiver would be reduced by 37 percent. Second, their future cost projections assumed that ColoradoCare will not reduce health care costs. Even opponents of universal health care claim that costs would be reduced by 0.5 percent per year. Correcting these two errors results in a budget surplus of nearly $2 billion the first year, and fiscal sustainability through 2028. Without any premium increases!

Forgive my skepticism when ProgressNow’s executive director, a former chief of staff to the speaker of the House, writes: “The truth is, nothing would make progressives in Colorado happier than taking a bold step toward single payer health care.” Let me be clear: Since 2009, ProgressNow has never reached out to work on these plans to create universal health care. They chose instead to stay silent until 82 days before the election when a lobbying firm successfully recruited them to lead a “progressive press conference” against ColoradoCare.

By opposing ColoradoCare, ProgressNow fell prey to the predatory corporate lobby that is spreading fear and lies through organizations like “Americans for Prosperity” and “Coloradans for Coloradans.” ProgressNow offers lip-service to progressive causes but demonstrated that it does not have the strength or integrity to be a real champion of the people.

Fortunately, Colorado voters have the final word. And this time, the old fear and lies are not working. This time, voters are seeing through the familiar machinations of billion-dollar interest groups that buy media, politicians, and political organizations to scare us into choosing corporate wealth over our health.

Colorado has endured the greed, inefficiency, and abuses of corporate insurance for long enough. The time for progress is now. Please join me in voting yes on Amendment 69.

Senator Aguilar’s Op-Ed was originally published in the Colorado Statesman.

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