Colorado hits insurance milestone amid big questions

DENVER (AP) — As Colorado and other states conclude health insurance sign-ups Tuesday, great uncertainty over the future of those plans is coloring debate over what states should do as they await word from Washington about how the federal health-care law will change.

Colorado's GOP-led Senate is moving a plan to undo Colorado's state-run insurance exchange , called Connect For Health Colorado.

It's a bill unlikely to make it to the governor's desk because of Democratic opposition. But the measure is a good indication of how Republicans plan to chip away at Obamacare even before the new Congress even decides what to do next.

The bill would dismantle Connect For Health Colorado within a year. If the federal health care law remains unchanged, that would force Coloradans shopping for private insurance to use the federal exchange .

"Should Colorado continue to have its own exchange? Or has that model either become too expensive, or not effective?" asked Sen. Jim Smallwood, a Republican from Douglas County who sponsored the repeal.

Smallwood is an insurance broker who says his plan has nothing to do with attacking Obamacare, just in saving Colorado the expense of running its own health-insurance marketplace. Colorado is one of only 11 states with an in-state insurance exchange.

"They think it's all one and the same and that if you try to change the exchange, you're trying to change the law or Obamacare ... and that's not true," Smallwood told reporters about his bill.

But Smallwood isn't having much luck selling his bill as anything but a broadside attack on Obamacare.

Democrats and supporters of the health law launched a rally on the Capitol steps Tuesday to decry the exchange attack as an effort to undo the health law in Colorado.

"That really limits Colorado's options if a repeal goes through at the federal level," since the exchange's creation in 2011 and implementation of Obamacare, said Adam Fox of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, a Denver-based advocacy group that supports the federal health care law.

Meanwhile, the exchange was on pace to set another record for insurance enrollments by the deadline Tuesday night.

The exchange last year sold some 200,000 people medical or dental plans, said Luke Clarke, a spokesman for Connect For Health Colorado.

As of Monday, the exchange was running 12 percent ahead on enrollments over 2016, Clarke said, though a final figure would not be available for several weeks.

The exchange is actively opposing Smallwood's bill.

Clarke argued that dismantling Colorado's exchange would only scare away insurers, not attract more choices.

"The uncertainty is probably not making it more attractive" to insurers to sell plans in Colorado, Clarke said.

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Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt

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