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Marijuana and Cost Containment Top Health Policy Themes in Session

Now that the 2014 legislative session has come to an end, exhausted lawmakers are thrilled to finally have a break. But here at the Colorado Health Institute, our work is just beginning. Every year, we look at the health-related bills that passed the legislature – and those that didn’t – and analyze what it all means for Colorado.

Given the major changes taking place at the federal and state levels with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, there wasn’t much of an appetite for significant new health laws this year. Most of the 2014 bills seemed to nibble around the edges of health policy rather than tackle significant overhauls. 

In fact, when it came to health-related legislation, the 2014 session was characterized almost as much by the bills that didn’t pass as it was by those that did. The recall elections last fall narrowed the Democrats’ majority in the Senate to just one seat, dampening the party’s agenda compared with previous years. We saw many Democratic-sponsored bills pared down significantly from their original versions to secure support – or even pulled from the docket when passage seemed impossible.

Still, many health bills did make it through, and we saw several key themes emerge.

  • Cost Containment is Big: Both parties agree that containing health care costs is crucial. They just disagree on how to go about it. Several bills were introduced, most notably Senate Bill 14-187, which establishes a commission to analyze Colorado’s health care cost drivers and identify solutions to address rising costs. The bill garnered bipartisan support, although some Republicans said they were wary of another government-mandated study.  
  • Health Reform is Still Top of Mind: A number of bills cleaned up statutes implementing the Affordable Care Act in Colorado, while other Republican-sponsored measures aimed to undermine the federal law. For example, one bill would have repealed Connect for Health Colorado, while another would have granted a tax deduction to anyone who had to pay the federal penalty for not having health insurance. None of the anti-Obamacare bills passed, but they served to signal Republicans’ continued disapproval of the law heading into the November elections.
  • Colorado Continues to Blaze the Trail on Marijuana Policy: The legalization of recreational marijuana continues to bring up a number of complex policy issues, with the public health impact among them. The legislature passed bills to regulate edible marijuana packaging, ban synthetic marijuana products and more. In the final days of the session, legislators passed Senate Bill 14-215, which outlines how Colorado’s marijuana revenues will be spent. Another bill allocates funds to study the health effects of medical marijuana. Marijuana policy issues are sure to re-emerge in future sessions as lawmakers grapple with how to best regulate Colorado’s burgeoning pot industry.

The Colorado Health Institute will soon publish our annual Legislation in Review report, providing a more comprehensive look at the health bills and themes that emerged during the 2014 session. Look for an announcement on the publication in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, sign up now for our legislative recap webinar on May 29 from noon to 1 p.m. We hope you will join us.