Bill to help middle-class families pay for health care clears House

Bill provides a stopgap measure while a long-term solution is sought

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Colorado State Capitol Building Enlargephoto

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto Colorado State Capitol Building

DENVER – Middle-class families in rural Colorado may soon receive state subsidies for health care coverage.

House Bill 1235, which would create a temporary relief program for families and individuals in areas of the state with the highest premiums, was passed by the Colorado House of Representatives on a 42-22 bipartisan vote Monday.

The areas identified as having the highest premiums are in rural Colorado, including the southwestern corner of the state. The bill targets people whose income is between four and five times the federal poverty level.

To qualify for the subsidy, households must fulfill a number of criteria:

Be on a health benefit plan purchased through the Colorado health care exchange.Earn between $48,000 and $60,000 for individuals or $65,000 and $81,000 for families of two.Not be eligible for a government-sponsored program, such as Medicaid or Medicare, or have an employer-sponsored plan. Pay more than 15 percent of annual income on health care premiums.The bill has bipartisan support and sponsorship, with Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, carrying it in the Senate. The measure would be in effect from July 1, 2017, through December 2018 or through the repeal or replacement of the Affordable Care Act by the Trump Administration.

“This is short-term relief for people who are suffering from pretty extreme inequities between rural and urban Colorado,” said Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs and sponsor of HB 1235. “We will continue to work on a longer-term solution, but in the meantime, this relief is critical for people in my district who are having to choose between rent and health care.”

The extent of the assistance provided by the bill will be depend on the income of a household and the amount spent on premiums but is estimated to be between $2,000 and $3,200.

Having passed the House, HB 1235 now heads to the Republican-held Senate for consideration.

lperkins@durangoherald.com