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Democrat Backs Off Universal Health Care Plan In Colorado

DENVER (AP) - An ambitious plan to make Colorado the first state with universal health care was spiked Friday by its Democratic sponsor.

But the Democratic chamber moved ahead with a bill to expand Medicaid coverage for needy adults.

The universal health proposal by Sen. Irene Aguilar, a physician and Denver Democrat, was a bold single-payer proposal. The bill would have had Colorado abandon Medicaid and Medicare entirely and enact a statewide 9 percent payroll tax to pay for the nation's first universal coverage plan.

The plan was so sweeping and unprecedented that good cost projections weren't available. Legislative analysts projected the tab could rival the current size of the entire state budget. The change would have required approval by voters and a supermajority vote by the Legislature, which Aguilar conceded Friday she did not have.

Still, Aguilar urged Senate colleagues to keep an open mind about her idea in the future.

"We need to be willing to be mavericks and design our own Colorado solution," Aguilar said.

Republicans argued that government-run health care shouldn't be expanded.

"The government paying for medical care for more and more of the population is not the solution. it's the problem," said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud.

Aguilar fared better on a separate bill Friday to expand Medicaid. The coverage change would add childless adults to the program, an element of the new federal health care overhaul.

The Medicaid expansion was never in doubt - Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has said that Colorado will expand Medicaid.

But some Republicans warned that the Legislature should try to block the expansion plans. Though the federal government pays the bulk of the tab, some Republicans feared the expansion could set up Colorado for big spending in the future. And Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango pointed out that the state's current Medicaid system is strained by a lack of providers.

"We can't care for the ones we currently have," Roberts said.

The Medicaid expansion won preliminary approval on an unrecorded voice vote. It faces a more formal Senate vote before heading to the House.

- By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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