Campaign For Universal Health Care In Colorado Seeks Bernie Sanders' Help : Shots - Health News An initiative on the state's November ballot would establish a single-payer health plan. Supporters hope to lure Sanders to help get out the vote.

Campaign For Universal Health Care In Colorado Seeks Bernie Sanders' Help

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Backers of a Colorado ballot proposal for universal health care want the attention of Bernie Sanders. It's a high-profile issue in the state, and supporters want Sanders to use his influence to help get it passed in November. Sanders' campaign says he hasn't planned a trip to Colorado yet but that he is keeping an eye on what's going on there. Colorado Public Radio's John Daley has more.

JOHN DALEY, BYLINE: The ColoradoCare initiative would rock the health care world if voters approve it in November. It would create a new public health system to cover most of the state's residents. This is where proponent T.R. Reid hopes Bernie Sanders will come in.

T R REID: He goes home to Burlington, Vt. He doesn't have 8,000 people cheering for him every day. He needs something to do, so he comes to Colorado and campaigns for single-payer, and we win.

DALEY: Reid is one of the architects of ColoradoCare. He says Sanders could create another chapter in his political legacy. The Vermont senator made the case for one of his key health care positions, universal coverage, in Colorado before the state's Democratic caucus. It got thousands of his supporters cheering at an event in February.


BERNIE SANDERS: To my critics, let me say this as clearly as I possibly can. I believe that health care is a right, not a privilege.


DALEY: Despite an unsuccessful try at a similar plan in Vermont, Sanders still thinks a state-by-state approach can work. In a cable TV appearance with Rachel Maddow, he explained that Canada started its single-payer system one province at a time.


SANDERS: So you're asking me, do I think if a major state, whether it's Colorado or California or whatever, goes forward and it works well, other states say, hey, you know, I've got a brother over there in Colorado who's getting health care, great health care and it's less expensive than the current system - yeah, I think that is one possibility, absolutely.

DALEY: ColoradoCare comes with an estimated $38 billion a year price tag. A tax on workers and businesses would pay for it, eliminating the need for insurance premiums and deductibles. Backers say it'll save the state and individuals a lot of money. Andrew Kleiman is a 35-year-old Sanders supporter from Grand Junction. He says if Sanders actively backed the proposal in Colorado, it would help motivate millennials like him to vote.

ANDREW KLEIMAN: The momentum of Bernie's campaign carried over into something like this would be a perfect fit and pretty necessary I think.

DALEY: A coalition of opponents, including conservatives, insurance and business groups, have come out against the initiative which is expected to draw big money from both sides.

NINA ANDERSON: I don't think the economics of it work out.

DALEY: That's Nina Anderson, who owns a small staffing firm in Grand Junction. She says the proposal would be too expensive. Colorado has been on the cutting edge of some big policy changes like legalizing recreational pot. Anderson says she's not ready for the state to take the lead or Sanders to jump in on a huge government-run health care system.

ANDERSON: That is the scary part, I think, about being in Colorado and being on the forefront of anything that is attempting to move to socialized care, is that you do get everybody with the outside interests coming in and playing in your sandbox.

DALEY: She says Sanders' involvement would bring people like her out to vote against the measure. One recent poll shows the initiative trailing but ahead among millennials who tend not to vote in large numbers. Advocates hope that Sanders can spur turnout among that key group. For NPR News, I'm John Daley.

SIEGEL: That story is part of a reporting partnership of NPR, Colorado Public Radio and Kaiser Health News.

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