Colorado governor John Hickenlooper proposes Medicaid expansion to help low income families

DENVER - Some 160,000 Colorado adults with low incomes could become eligible for public health care assistance under a plan announced Thursday by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Hickenlooper's plan expands Medicaid coverage for adults as called for by President Barack Obama's federal health care law.

Hickenlooper says the expansion will cost Colorado some $128 million. But he says he has identified cuts and savings to Medicaid to more than pay for the change.

The expansion proposed Thursday would allow single adults earning less than about $15,000 a year to receive Medicaid.

The Colorado Hospital Association said the change will make more than 161,000 Coloradans eligible for health care coverage through Medicaid.

The federal government will cover 100 percent of the costs for the newly-eligible Medicaid population through 2016. In 2017, the federal match rates begin to taper down until 2020, at which point Colorado will be responsible for 10 percent of the costs going forward, according to the Governor's office.

Speaker-elect Mark Ferrandino said Medicaid expansion will be an economic boon to the state.

"If we combine cost controls and smarter, outcomes-oriented payment systems, we can expand Medicaid and not break the bank,” said Rep. Ferrandino (D-Denver), who will be sponsoring legislation with Sen. Irene Aguilar to enable portions of the governor’s proposal.

However, Colorado House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, does not support the plan.

“We cannot improve the wellbeing of Colorado if we bankrupt ourselves in the process," said Waller. "We must exercise foresight when dealing with such a significant expansion. I’m disappointed the Governor’s plan doesn’t address concerns that this expansion could potentially cost upwards of $800 million. We’ve already scaled back Medicaid once because of costly and inaccurate forecasting, let us make sure we’re not repeating those mistakes under the Governor’s plan.”

“No one wants to see Coloradans denied coverage, but our obligation must first be to Coloradans currently relying on state services," said State Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen. "The Governor will need to explain how adding 160,000 people to our Medicaid system will not further reduce the monies available to support our K-12 schools and institutions of higher education.”

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