PERRY: Legislature is killing Colorado with bad rural hospital jokes and political kabuki — call a special session


Time to bring down the curtain on the clown-car show at the Colorado state Capitol.

Gov. John Hickenlooper needs to call a special session to address the looming hospital crisis in rural Colorado. The hyperventilating drama kings and queens in the state House and Senate are too verklempt to create any kind of responsible solution.

Granted, this is no easy task. Republicans are in the middle of a feverish delirium over the stupidest and most dangerous thing Coloradans have ever inflicted on themselves: the misnomered Taxpayer Bill of Wrongs, err, Rights.

Democrats, desperate to just get Republicans    who control the state Senate —to do anything but whine and fold their arms in the state’s longest-running political tantrum on record have given in to an insanely contorted “compromise” legislative maneuver. It  bodes ill for every Coloradan.

So stop.

Here are the highlights of the problem:

• TABOR, sold to voters in 1992, prevents lawmakers from raising taxes. But it does oh-so-much more. It caps state revenues, hence spending. This moronic Constitutional amendment has wreaked havoc on state government for years. Now it’s inflicting harm on the conservative lawmakers who’ve worshiped it. Sadly, they’re inflicting the damage on their rural constituents in the way of closing hospitals. TABOR is so toxic, that after years of trying to cram it down the throats of voters in other parts of the country, not a single state wants anything to do with it. This is a purely Colorado disease we caught from rogue southern Californians in the late 1980s. We can’t even find a treatment for TABOR, let alone a cure.

• When Obamacare was passed, Colorado took the deal of expanding Medicaid, which provides health care for poor people. The feds pay the bulk. In theory, more Medicare patients means fewer unpaid bills to local hospitals, which means less costs passed onto consumers, which means lower insurance rates. The jury is out whether staying the course would be good, bad or more of the same. Regardless, state lawmakers created a “fee” imposed on hospitals treating all patients. The fee fed a pool of money to reimburse hospitals taking a loss on Medicaid patients, which pay less. The hospitals and insurance companies willingly agreed to this.

• Republicans say, however, that this fee is a tax. It’s not. Even Republican lawyers for the state say it’s not. But because they refuse to back down, the money raised by the fee, hundreds of millions of dollars, lowers the TABOR spending cap. See where this is going? Because of Republican obstinacy in the state, this pile of political bull rolls downhill, right into rural Colorado counties.

• It means that under TABOR, Colorado must hand these fees over to taxpayers, instead of spending them on roads, schools and public safety. We’re talking a few dollars a year for each taxpayer that adds up to hundreds of millions the state desperately needs. For the last few years, Republicans have smirked over this TABOR refund crap, saying that the state must simply live within its means. That smirking has now inadvertently created a crisis in rural Colorado.

• Outstate, there are few hospitals and potentially even fewer. These small operations serve a sparse and often poor community. And how do poor people in rural Colorado pay for health care? Medicaid. Expanded Medicaid. Suddenly, conservative Republicans who couldn’t say enough bad about the expansion now care about it. It’s because their political lives depend on it just like the lives of their constituents depend on not having to drive for hundreds of miles to get to an emergency room with a burst appendix. If Republicans are successful in finally extorting the state into reducing Medicaid expansion or further reducing Medicaid payments, at least three rural hospitals will almost immediately go belly up, and more will follow.

Suddenly, rural Colorado Republicans were ready to bargain over the GOP TABOR hospital fee nonsense.

But not all Republicans. A handful are willing to continue this charade to protect what is nothing more than a political mirage they’ve left rural Coloradans to drink from.

What started out as some sort of real compromise between Democratic and Republican leaders has devolved into nothing more than political kabuki.

Republicans want to sell state holdings for roads, stupidly hike pot taxes — further pushing it into the black market — and, now, change Medicaid payments, endangering not just rural hospitals, but all Colorado hospitals.  The shenanigans became a Trump White House comedy show yesterday with both sides trying to prove their opponents are big, fat liars, not them.

This isn’t lawmaking. This is dumb and dangerous. There are real lives at stake here, and the ones most endangered live in outlying parts of Colorado where Republicans rule.

It’s sad enough they’re willing to stick it to poor people living in Democratic strongholds in the state. But it’s unforgivable that a handful of GOP lawmakers are willing to sacrifice the health, and more than likely the very lives, of Coloradans who are on the wrong side of poor, politics and geography. All this  for the sake of a vapid and wrongheaded argument over abstruse state budget accounting.

It’s up to Hickenlooper to slap these hysterical divas with a special session so they can take a breath.

Meet later. End this ludicrous hospital provider fee melodrama on its own. Do not tie it to a sordid list of political gotchas that do nothing but hurt the very constituents these lawmakers have sworn to protect.

Follow @EditorDavePerry on Twitter and Facebook or reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]