DENVER — An expansion of Medicaid eligibility that’s expected to add 160,000 adults to public health care assistance in Colorado was signed into law Monday.
The expansion is part of the federal health care overhaul, and at least 18 states had indicated at the beginning of the year they wanted to participate. Nearly a dozen states have refused to take part.
Supporters of the expansion say it will reduce health care costs in the long run.
“Because we know that the healthier we keep our population, the better we control our costs,” said Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, a sponsor of the Colorado bill.
But most Republicans voted against the expansion, saying the state’s cost can balloon once the federal government stops paying for growing the program. The federal government covers the entire cost of the expansion for the first three years.
“We can’t afford it,” said Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg, of Berthoud. Colorado will be on the hook “down the road for Medicaid dollars we don’t have,” he said.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the measure Monday afternoon outside the Capitol.
“This is going to support working Coloradoans and improve economic security for individuals and families and ultimately even for businesses,” he said.
Hickenlooper has said the expansion would cost Colorado about $128 million over the next 10 years. But he insists there’s $280 million in cuts and savings to Medicaid that he has identified that can more than pay for the expansion. Some of those cuts and savings would include better use of technology by Medicaid-funded doctors and efforts to reduce waste.
Lundberg remained skeptical about whether state officials will find enough savings for the expansion.
“I think that’s a complete joke, and it’s a very cruel joke,” he said.
Critics of the expansion point to a report last year from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Urban Institute that estimated the state would have to spend up to $858 million over the next 10 years on the growth of Medicaid.
The expansion will allow single adults earning less than about $15,900 a year to qualify for the entitlement program. According to most recent figures available, state analysts believe that more than 750,000 people in Colorado — or about 15 percent to 16 percent of the state’s population — didn’t have health insurance in 2011.