Highlighting the divisions in the Democratic party this election, Colorado's ballot measure for a universal, single-payer healthcare plan is facing unexpected resistance from the very same party that has been calling for such a healthcare plan since the 1990s.
"There is a disconnect between the powers that be and the people," said state senator Irene Aguilar, a former doctor and the chief architect of the statewide 'Medicare-for-all,' called ColoradoCare, in an interview with the Guardian. "The powers that be are incrementalists. There hasn't been a courage of conviction to try and deal with [healthcare coverage]."
If it passes, ColoradoCare would make Colorado the first state in the nation with universal healthcare.
Most Americans support replacing Obamacare with a single-payer system, and Bernie Sanders has made his support for universal healthcare a central pillar of his presidential campaign. His rival Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, continues to support the least popular position of maintaining the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with only incremental and modest changes.
Clinton's position is echoed by establishment Democrats in Colorado, including Clinton supporter and former governor Bill Ritter, who argued to the Guardian that ColoradoCare was not "practical or feasible."
"Colorado could lead the nation in moving toward a system to ensure better health care for more people at less cost."
—Sen. Bernie SandersJohn Hickenlooper, the state's current governor another prominent pro-Clinton Democrat, said in a statement, "Our reforms are just beginning to bear fruit and it would be premature to dramatically remake our health care system at this time."
(Hickenlooper is in fact so close to Clinton that he may be on the campaign's shortlist for a vice presidential pick, according to The Hill.)
Clinton's campaign is directly linked to Coloradans for Coloradans, the most prominent organization opposing ColoradoCare. Formed solely to defeat the measure, Coloradans for Coloradans is being funded by the very same consultant firm currently working for the Clinton super PAC Priorities USA, as Lee Fang reported in the Intercept.
While a stance for the ACA and against single payer is the least popular with the public, it is the most popular within a certain sector of the population: pharmaceutical and healthcare companies.
Indeed, in Colorado the "anti-single-payer effort is funded almost entirely by health care industry interests," Fang reported, "including $500,000 from Anthem Inc., the state’s largest health insurance provider; $40,000 from Cigna, another large health insurer that is current in talks to merge with Anthem; $75,000 from Davita, the dialysis company; $25,000 from Delta Dental, the largest dental insurer in the state; and $100,000 from SCL Health, the faith-based hospital chain."
Moreover, Clinton herself "has received $13.2m in donations from the health sector over the years, according to nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. This well-funded industry is also the chief financial backer of the effort to destroy ColoradoCare," notes the Guardian.
"There is huge money from the [health insurance] industry involved in financing not only the campaign against ColoradoCare, but also in financing the politicians who decide on health care legislation," Owen Perkins, communications director for ColoradoCareYes, a group advocating for the ballot measure, told the Guardian.
"The role that big money, big medicine plays in funding campaigns and influencing political votes is certainly a good reason to take [healthcare] out of the insurance industry and politicians and put it in the hands of the people," Perkins added.
While the health sector pours funds into the fight against single payer, ColoradoCareYes told the Guardian that their fight for universal healthcare is being funded largely by small, individual donors—much like Sanders' presidential run, which has made its average donation of $27 into a touchstone of the campaign.
Sanders himself has lent support to the ballot measure. In a statement to the Colorado Independent, Sanders said, "Colorado could lead the nation in moving toward a system to ensure better health care for more people at less cost. In the richest nation on earth, we should make health care a right for all citizens. No one should go bankrupt or skip getting the care they need because they cannot afford it."