Among Republican candidates to be Colorado’s next governor, a common argument has emerged: Medicaid spending in Colorado, driven upward by the Affordable Care Act, is unsustainable.

Victor Mitchell talks about it in a campaign video. Doug Robinson references the concern on his website. George Brauchler spoke of it at the Western Conservative Summit last month: “We have lost the ability to prioritize any spending in our budget for roads, for education in rural areas because of what we’ve done with Obamacare,” Brauchler said. “It has gobbled up so much of our budget.”

Is Medicaid really eating the rest of the state budget alive? And could the state move large sums of money to other priorities by slashing Medicaid spending?

The answers are complicated — some yes and some no. Let’s dig in.

Is Medicaid spending growing relative to other items in the budget?


In the 1999-2000 fiscal year, the budget for the state department that oversees Medicaid in Colorado was just shy of $2 billion and made up about 17 percent of the total state budget that year, according to figures from the Colorado Health Institute. For the current fiscal year, the Medicaid department’s budget is $9.4 billion and makes up a third of total state spending.

But that’s really the wrong budget to look at. In addition to being a huge cost to the state, Medicaid is also a huge revenue source — the single largest source of federal funds that Colorado receives every year.

To look at how Medicaid impacts state dollars that could be spent on other things, you have to look at the smaller general fund budget. In 1999-2000, Medicaid also made up about 17 percent of the general fund budget, according to the Colorado Health Institute. Currently, it makes up a little over 26 percent.