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Colorado to vote on single payer health care in 2016

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Activists in the Centennial State have gotten more than the 100,000 signatures needed to put an initiative on the ballot next year to establish a single-payer universal health care system in the state. This comes three years after voters approved a ballot initiative that made Colorado the first state (along with Washington state) to legalize recreational marijuana. 

If approved, the new system would create a state health care cooperative financed entirely by tax revenue. It would replace or at least significantly marginalize the private insurance industry in Colorado and scrap the state insurance exchange set up by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. 

If passed, the new system would be financed by a 10 percent payroll tax hike, which would raise an estimated $25 billion. That is more than double all of the revenue currently flowing into the state’s general fund, according to an analysis by KUSA, the Denver NBC affiliate. 

The station also found the tax would amount to $26 out of every bi-weekly paycheck for a worker making $20,000 a year; $64 for one making $50,000 a year and $192 for one making $150,000 a year. 

Like Social Security, income above a certain level –– $350,000 for single filers and $450,000 for married couples –– would be capped. That’s somewhat of a surprising twist, given that many liberal leaders see the cap on Social Security taxes as one of the program’s flaws. 

The ballot initiative spells out an entirely new government entity that would run the massive new health care program. A board, composed of officials elected by voters in 21 districts across the state, would be in charge of raising taxes to fund the system. 

The initiative appears to be supported by many state Democrats, and it was praised by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. In setting up a specific tax for the new system, Colorado activists seek to overcome the financial barrier that stopped single payer in Vermont, where an initially supportive governor was forced to admit last year that he didn’t have the money necessary to finance such a large new program. 

The initiative is far from assured to succeed. Colorado is a battleground state that is expected to be closely contested during the upcoming presidential election. Groups from both sides will likely invest heavily to advance or defeat the initiative. 

“It’s going to be a spirited discussion, but we’ll work hard and stick to the facts,” Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, told The Coloradoan. “I think voters will understand the benefits of bending the cost curve.”