Repeal Could Spell Disaster for Colorado Families
Jennifer Greenfield is an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Social Work. She has taught at the University of Denver since 2013. Greenfield's research focuses on the intersections of health and wealth disparities among working women, especially through the mechanism of caregiving. Greenfield has conducted extensive research on the topics of minimum wage and paid family leave.
On Nov. 8, Colorado voters took an important step toward boosting the economic security of hundreds of thousands of Coloradans: we passed Amendment 70, which will raise the minimum wage in January to $9.30 an hour, and then increase it by 90 cents each year until it reaches $12 an hour in 2020. This was an important victory for the more than 400,000 minimum-wage workers and their families in Colorado, as well as for the state's economy in general.
But changing political winds in Washington, D.C. are putting any economic advancement for these workers in jeopardy. Currently, many of Colorado's full-time minimum-wage workers rely on public supports to make ends meet. The goal of increasing wages is to facilitate gradually moving away from those public supports — allowing families to work toward economic self-sufficiency, which is good for the state budgets and good for families. Unfortunately, if the new Congress has its way this month, workers won't experience a gradual weaning off of public support as their wages increase. Instead, they'll step off a financial cliff because of rising costs for health insurance.
Right now, many full-time minimum-wage workers qualify for health coverage through Medicaid, because Colorado was one of 32 states that expanded eligibility for that program under the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid is one of the most valuable public benefits in terms of relief provided to household budgets. In a study of the potential effects of a minimum-wage increase for Colorado, my colleague, Jack Strauss, and I examined who would benefit from the wage increase, and how their reliance on public support programs might change. We found that under current law, as workers' wages increase, most adults will see their health-care coverage shift from Medicaid to the Connect for Health Colorado marketplace.
This is a boon for insurance companies and the state: as more people move off of Medicaid and into private insurance, pressure on the state's health-care budget eases and insurers gain relatively healthy plan participants. This is also great for low-wage workers: those who purchase coverage through the marketplace receive subsidies to help with monthly premiums and, in some cases, to help with out-of-pocket costs as well. These subsidies help ensure that they and their families can see a doctor when they get sick instead of delaying care until it is an (expensive) emergency.
Congress and the president-elect have promised to "repeal" the Affordable Care Act by eliminating funding for those subsidies and the expanded Medicaid. This move won't just make insurance unaffordable for most or all of Colorado's minimum-wage workers; the Urban Institute estimated that passing this repeal without simultaneously passing a replacement will leave nearly 30 million Americans without insurance. It is not just the minimum wage workers who will suffer — nearly everyone who buys health insurance will feel the effects of an unsettled and shrinking market. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that at least 588,000 Coloradans would lose coverage by 2019 if the ACA is repealed — and the state would lose almost $33.3 billion in federal dollars in the next decade.
Colorado voters support helping working people achieve economic self-sufficiency. The proposed ACA repeal would undermine Colorado's efforts to do just that.
The first votes on the "repeal" may occur this week, and Colorado's congressional delegation should work to ensure that the repeal does not move forward until Congress has a meaningful, specific, and workable plan to replace it. Catchy slogans are great for campaigns, but the consequences of a hasty repeal without a long-term plan would be very bad for Colorado. Coloradans are depending on our members of Congress to act thoughtfully and responsibly to support the progress toward financial self-sufficiency that helps Colorado's businesses and families thrive.