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GOP Idea To Help Colorado Budget Defeated In Senate

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – Colorado Republicans have been talking for months about trying to save money by seeking federal permission to cut Medicaid, but the GOP’s big idea to rein in the fastest-growing portion of Colorado’s budget suffered what could be a fatal blow Wednesday.

A Senate committee controlled by Democrats voted 5-4 to reject a bill to seek a Medicaid waiver, saying the gambit could hurt needy patients.

With no similar bill pending in the Republican House, and no movement from the executive branch to seek such a waiver, Republicans’ Medicaid proposal appears dead for the moment.

Republican Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray argued in vain for his waiver proposal Wednesday. Brophy said that many states are seeking federal waivers to trim costs from Medicaid, a state-federal program that provides health care for the needy.

Brophy argued that public education is suffering because Colorado spends too much on Medicaid.

“We do not have enough money to continue to fund Medicaid the way we’re funding it and educate our children in the manner we need to,” Brophy said.

Democrats have repeatedly dismissed the waiver proposal as wishful thinking that could hurt needy patients if it were granted. A spokesman for Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has said there is “no such thing as a magic waiver” to cut costs.

Health groups and the state AARP also opposed the idea.

“We’re not going to save money by reducing care,” AARP’s A.W. Schnellbacher testified.

Ballooning Medicaid bills are driving many states to look for ways to trim costs. Colorado and other states have reduced payments in recent years to physicians who treat Medicaid patients, as well as cut medical services covered by Medicaid. Democrats in the Colorado Senate committee argued further cuts could be irresponsible.

Democratic Sen. Irene Aguilar of Denver said that Medicaid costs are going up because there are more eligible patients – the elderly and the needy. She argued that a waiver itself wouldn’t save money, and that Republican-backed changes would be unlikely to cut the most expensive patients, such as the disabled.

“I don’t want us to seek a waiver without a comprehensive plan of what we’re going to do,” Aguilar said before voting against Brophy’s plan.

After the vote, Brophy said he didn’t know why House Republicans who control that chamber haven’t put forward a Medicaid waiver proposal of their own. Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty has repeatedly urged lawmakers to tackle Medicaid spending to improve state finances.

Brophy joked that he’s a “lowly little back-bencher” and doesn’t know whether another Medicaid waiver bill would be offered in the House. But he added that Wednesday’s Senate committee vote could discourage another proposal.

“It sends a very clear message” that a Medicaid waiver would not be embraced by Democrats who control the Senate, Brophy said.

LINK: Senate Bill 32

- By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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