The Denver Post's Kurtis Lee reports this weekend:
"In the scenario of the lesser of two evils, this was the best choice," said [Rep. Amy] Stephens, who in 2011 sponsored a bipartisan measure that set up the state's health insurance exchange, now known as Connect for Health Colorado.
"I felt — and still do feel — Colorado knows how to do health care better than the federal government," the Monument lawmaker said.
But as the rollout of Colorado's online health insurance exchange — a key pillar of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act — enters its second month, the legislator who helped champion creation of the state exchange is in a complicated situation.
Stephens has embarked on a U.S. Senate run next year where her sponsorship of what critics call "Amycare" is certain to be cast into the spotlight by her GOP primary challengers.
Lee does a much better job in this story characterizing the GOP U.S. Senate primary field, perhaps after criticism for his fictional portrayal of Colorado Senate candidates who signed on to the Ted Cruz plan to force the gutting of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. "Obamacare" as "outsiders" during the last month's budget standoff. Both of Stephens' principal opponents, Ken Buck and Owen Hill, proudly signed on to the shutdown effort, only to backpedal (with Lee's careless help) once the tactic was overwhelmingly rejected by the American public.
By contrast, Democrats have cleverly invoked Stephens' name as the "Amycare" insurance exchange in Colorado debuted last month. Warm congratulations from Democrats for Stephens for her role in the legislation creating Connect for Health Colorado complicated local Republican efforts to trash the Colorado exchange in the same manner as the federal exchange website, even though the "Amycare" exchange rollout has not been trouble-free either. And as you can see above, Stephens herself is glad to use the somewhat better functioning Colorado exchange to distance herself, and "Amycare," from the larger specter of Obamacare that could poison her bid to win the GOP's 2014 Senate nomination. Listening to Stephens, you might even forget for a moment that there would be no "Amycare" were it not for Obamacare.
With all of this in mind, Stephens faces two serious problems. First, Stephens' nuanced arguments about Colorado's exchange are not being echoed by other Colorado Republicans. Conservative pundits and online mouthpieces continue to take daily news cycle-based shots at Colorado's exchange, entirely undifferentiated from the uglier national narrative of Obamacare's startup woes. Not only is it an uncomplicated message, but supporters of Stephens' primary opponents have no reason whatsoever to accommodate any exception for Colorado, as it only benefits Stephens.
The other problem, which Lee barely touches on in this story, is that Stephens' "support" for the legislation creating the Colorado exchange was highly erratic. After a robust Tea Party backlash in her district, Stephens buckled in her support for the exchange, attempting a poison pill amendment that would only allow Colorado's exchange to start up after "a full waiver from all terms, restrictions, and requirements in the federal Patient Protection and Affordability Care Act of 2010" was granted to the state of Colorado. Supporters of the exchange from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper to the National Federation of Independent Business by all reports went ballistic on Stephens, and she ditched her ill-advised poison pill–but continued to offer bills to "opt out" Colorado from the Affordable Care Act to prove her conservative credentials. A weak primary opponent attempted to use the exchange against Rep. Stephens the next year without success.
But what Stephens faces today is no state house primary. Stephens faces a seemingly impossible challenge to separate herself from the health care reform her party has made it a central issue to dismantle, while being inextricably bound to it. In this way, Stephens is a fine example of the contradictions within the Republican coalition on this issue. The last example was Mitt "Romneycare" Romney.
All we can say is, good luck with that.