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Health Bills Advance, Unlucky Few Fail as Budget Draws Near

Health Bills Advance, Unlucky Few Fail as Budget Draws Near

The Joint Budget Committee is meeting all week to finalize the budget for fiscal year 2015-16. This year, the Senate is first in line to consider the bill. The updated revenue forecast, released today, will give us a better idea of how much money the legislature has to spend and whether the JBC will have to scale back some of its earlier spending choices. Tough decisions are certainly ahead.

Legislative updates since our last blog:

Senate Bill 19 passed its third and final reading in the House on a vote of 64-1 and is heading to the governor’s desk. It requires an extensive audit of the state’s health insurance marketplace, Connect for Health Colorado. A similar bill faced heavy opposition from Democrats last year, but it marched through both chambers with bipartisan support this year.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee passed four bills that we’ve been tracking. Senate Bill 197, which seeks to reduce the training time required for advanced practice nurses to qualify to write prescriptions, passed 3-2 with Sen. Irene Aguilar (D) and Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik (R) in opposition. In its second reading on the Senate floor, two amendments were introduced and accepted to make SB 197 more palatable to physician groups. We anticipate that the senators who opposed the bill in committee will likely support it moving forward.

House Bill 1015, which would allow emergency medical service providers to practice across state lines, passed the committee 4-0 (with one excused) and goes to Senate Appropriations. House Bill 1182, which would expand the scope of practice for certified nurse aides, and Senate Bill 192, which would allow pharmacists to give therapeutic drugs to patients in nursing or long-term-care facilities, both passed 5-0. They then passed their second and third readings unamended as part of the Senate’s consent calendar, which is used for non-controversial bills, and are ready for a signature. 

The House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee passed one bill and voted down another. House Bill 1238, which would grant tax credits to health professionals practicing in underserved areas, was approved 10-3 and moves to the House Finance Committee. House Bill 1151, which would have set a floor for Medicaid provider reimbursement rates, failed unanimously. The bill was deemed flawed as written by the bill’s sponsors, the six members of the JBC. The group has been wrestling with the issue of Medicaid reimbursement rates and plans to bring back a new version in the future, so this topic isn’t dead yet.

The House Finance Committee turned down House Bill 1143 on a margin of 6-5, with Republicans supporting the bill and Democrats in opposition. The bill would have provided tax incentives for people age 75 and older to outfit their homes in an effort to remain there longer. While many legislators stated that they supported the policy, concerns over the bill’s projected costs were too much to overcome, especially when it was seen as competing against the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted down Senate Bill 74, which proposed requiring health care facilities to disclose direct pay prices for health services. This was also a 6-5 party-line vote, with Republicans in support of the bill and Democrats opposed to it.

We’re still waiting for several bills to be introduced, but one bill of note is Senate Bill 214, which would create a school safety and youth mental health committee. As with many Western states, Colorado struggles with a high youth suicide rate, and it has been scarred by school violence since the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999. The committee would study school safety issues, evaluate programs to monitor students in crisis and develop recommendations for the legislature’s education committees. This bill has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee saw some fireworks during the hearing for Senate Bill 77, the much-discussed “Parent’s Bill of Rights,” before voting 7-6 along party lines to postpone it indefinitely. The bill sought to broaden parental control (and limit state regulation) related to the education and physical and mental health care of minors. The hearing was no less contentious than in the Senate Education Committee on February 5, when a great deal of the discussion focused on vaccinations for children.

The Legislative Health Benefit Exchange Implementation Review Committee held its first meeting, which included introductions of Connect for health officials and a presentation on a financial audit. Committee chair Sen. Ellen Roberts (R) wants to ask the legislature for permission to hold more meetings than the five currently scheduled for this year.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee discussed House Bill 1111, which would create a Maternal Mortality Prevention Committee under the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment, and passed the bill unanimously. The full Senate passed House Bill 1067, which would require continuing professional development for licensed psychologists, on second reading, so it is nearly all the way through the process.

Looking ahead: the House Health, Insurance, & Environment Committee will hear Senate Bill 15, which aims to require insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorders, and House Bill 1258, which proposes the creation of the family and medical leave insurance (FAMLI) program. The bill would provide partial wages to workers who take time off for serious health conditions or to care for babies or sick family members.