DENVER (AP) — Supporters of universal health care loaded boxes of resident petitions off an ambulance and onto a stretcher Friday, launching their campaign to make Colorado the first state to opt out of the federal health law and replace it with taxpayer-funded coverage for all.

The ColoradoCareYES campaign wants to put its plan on the Colorado ballot next year to see if voters will approve what state officials elsewhere have failed to achieve — universal health care. They acknowledge they will run into major opposition, with foes saying costs will skyrocket.

“We can pay for health care the way we pay for police and fire —through our taxes,” said state Sen. Irene Aguilar, a physician and advocate for the universal coverage plan.

The federal health law gives states the ability to opt out after 2017, as long as they can show their own plan covers at least as many people as the U.S. plan. The proposal in Colorado would amend the state constitution to provide health coverage to everyone under age 65 through a resident-run health co-op.

Vermont lawmakers passed universal health care in 2011 but abandoned the plan three years later because it was too expensive.

The ColoradoCareYES campaign says employers would have to pay a new tax, about 7 percent of a worker’s wages, into the health co-op, on top of deductions for Social Security and Medicare. Employees would have a payroll tax of about 3 percent. Both employers and workers then would not have to pay premiums to a private health insurer.

The campaign says those taxes would raise enough money to cover children and adults who don’t work. They say the plan will cost $3 billion a year but will save $9 billion in health care administration costs compared with the current system.

Skeptics say costs would run out of control.

“It’s really bad news,” said Linda Gorman, a health care analyst for the Denver-based libertarian Independence Institute. “Basically, what it wants to do is vacuum up all the federal funds for health care, and then it wants to impose a new tax on everybody. This would put Colorado tax rates right up there.”

Supporters concede that it will be an uphill battle to win support. Colorado requires just 98,000 signatures to put something on the ballot — a threshold backers will likely reach — but the campaign is likely to face intense opposition.

ColoradoCareYES has raised about $320,000, according to campaign finance reports filed with the state. Supporters said they could not guess how much they want to raise to run the campaign next year.

“This is not going to be an easy fight,” Aguilar, the senator, told a few dozen supporters who gathered to turn in signatures Friday.

By Kristen Wyatt, AP Writer

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