DENVER (AP) – What started as a bipartisan attempt to lower health insurance premiums turned into a heated debate over the new health care law Monday, when the Democratic Senate gave preliminary approval to setting up a new insurance exchange over GOP objections that the move means Colorado is caving to federal health demands.

The bill sets up a Colorado health insurance exchange, which could allow individuals and small businesses to pool together for lower health insurance rates. The federal health care law requires states to set up health insurance exchanges by 2013, or the federal government will set up exchanges for them.

Colorado’s proposal was co-sponsored by House Republican Leader Amy Stephens and has been touted by longtime GOP allies as a free-market move to encourage competition in the insurance market.

But not all Republicans are on board. Three GOP senators argued against the idea Monday, and even Stephens has given mixed messages about the bill’s prospects in the Republican-controlled House.

Some opponents of the new health care law argue that by creating mandated exchanges, states are bowing to federal mandates.

“This is a step toward surrender,” argued Republican Sen. Shawn Mitchell, who reminded lawmakers that Colorado is among the states in a pending lawsuit seeking to overturn part of the new law.

Mitchell tried and failed to amend the bill to say an exchange would be created only after the federal government waives Colorado from any of the health law’s demands. As they have before, Democrats dismissed the idea.

Stephens pushed for a similar change last month in a letter to senators. Stephens said she’d try to defeat exchanges in the House if Democrats don’t agree to language separating Colorado from the federal health care law. She has since told reporters she’s still working on the bill and released a statement applauding the Senate’s passage of the bill Monday.

“This bill ensures that Coloradans can decide which health care insurance works best for them, and not the federal government,” Stephens said in the statement.

The exchange proposal needs a more-formal vote in the Senate before heading to the House. On preliminary debate Monday, Democrats seemed to aim their remarks more at on-the-fence Republicans rather than Democrats.

Democratic Sen. Morgan Carroll, of Aurora, reminded her GOP colleagues that business groups usually opposed to Democratic health ideas like exchanges. Carroll also argued that inaction by Colorado simply guarantees federal involvement.

“We’re stepping up to make sure there’s a Colorado solution,” Carroll said.

– By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

Senate Bill 200

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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