Why It's Good to be Purple

As our legislature progresses through its season, I hear so many conversations that begin, “In this legislative climate, it’s almost impossible to . . . ” A politically divided General Assembly makes enacting legislation difficult, as does a slowly recovering economy. So, it was particularly refreshing to read February’s Health Affairs article, “The Case of Colorado: Moving Forward On Exchanges” by TR Goldman.

Why is that? Because Goldman indicates that it just might be our divided legislature that has allowed Colorado to sanction and build its own health benefits exchange. Colorado is one of 12 states to have passed enabling legislation – and it’s the only one to have done so with a Republican majority in one of its legislative chambers.

The article tells the tale of the political maneuverings and negotiations that allowed Senate Bill 200, legislation allowing for the governance and building of Colorado’s health benefit exchange, to pass the House and the Senate and then to be signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper.

Goldman writes about the conversations, essential themes and crucial dialogue that happened at the Capitol. And in these discussions, he teased out the critical points of agreement that led to the passage of SB 200:

  • The advantages of building the exchange ourselves, rather than relying on a federal exchange. This falls within a legacy and tradition of independent-minded Coloradans creating their own solutions.
  • Colorado’s preference and history of forging public-private partnerships, such as CoverColorado, the basic Children’s Health Plan (seven years before the federal version) and yes, the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange.
  • The commonality between these three things: the 2008 findings of the Blue Ribbon Commission for Healthcare Reform, the belief of Colorado’s business community that a large, diversified risk pool can lead to lower premiums, and the increased access to insurance represented by the benefits exchange.
  • The surprising alliance between five leading business groups – the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, the Colorado Competitive Council, the Colorado chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business and Colorado Concern --- and Democratic state legislators.

When push comes to shove, and sensible policy is on the line, the art of compromise can win the day at the Capitol. Goldman profiles just how Democratic Senator Betty Boyd and Republican Representative Amy Stephens –co-sponsors of the bill -- arrived at compromise on key provisions of the bill.

Of course, the story is complicated and Goldman explores the details of the legislation’s passage. But there’s something to be said for our political process and the healthy dialogue of which we are all capable. In this heightened political season of red states and blue states, it’s good to be purple.

Michele Lueck is the president and CEO of CHI.