|January 3, 2013 7:19 PM

Governor backs free health insurance for low-income

Gov. John Hickenlooper is backing free government health insurance for single Coloradans earning about a full-time minimum wage, starting in 2014.

About 160,000 citizens, many of them working poor, would gain free insurance if the plan is approved. It would cover single adults earning up to $15,400 and families of four with incomes of up to $30,657.

Hickenlooper said the state can afford its $128 million cost over 10 years.

The governor also said the state expects to save $280 million on Medicaid — more than enough to cover the state’s share — with various savings, including healthier patients and more efficient care.

This expansion of Medicaid expansion is a key part of the Affordable Care Act’s provisions to insurance nearly all Americans. As a result, the proposal is subject to political dispute.

However, Coloradans elected Democratic majorities in both houses of the state legislature in November, so Republicans opposed to the cost may not have the votes to halt the plan.

Still, Republicans are wary. Republican State Rep. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen warned that the federal government’s own shortage of funds and fiscal disputes could jeopardize the federal share.

The recommendation to the state legislature was hailed by advocates of wider health coverage, including Dr. Ned Calonge, head of The Colorado Trust. He said it would lead to “better health, longer lives and new opportunities.” Anne Warhover, CEO of The Colorado Health Foundation, said the added care would help achieve the foundation’s goal of making Colorado the healthiest state in the nation.

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