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Weekly Legislative Roundup: Health Committees Get to Work

Weekly Legislative Roundup: Health Committees Get to Work

It’s been a busy week for the Colorado legislature. In the spirit of Denver’s National Western Stock Show, here’s our weekly roundup.

Governor John Hickenlooper’s State of the State speech on Thursday, January 15, was followed that afternoon with an extended joint meeting of the House and Senate health committees. The three committees, which comprise 27 legislators, heard a Joint Budget Committee overview of health-related budget requests, testimonials on expanding resources for behavioral health initiatives and people with intellectual disabilities, and a presentation of the annual report from Connect for Health Colorado, the state’s health insurance marketplace. The leadership of the marketplace faced tough questions from several legislators and also received some praise for the work it has accomplished under heavy scrutiny. The committees did not consider any bills.

On Tuesday, the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee met to discuss legislation for the first time this session. Rep. Susan Lontine (D) introduced her first bill, House Bill 1023, which seeks to expand age eligibility for people attending day treatment centers that serve as alternative to out-of-home placement for young people with developmental disabilities or behavioral health issues. Currently, the age range is 5 years to 18 years. Lontine said young children and families can benefit from earlier intervention and that 18 is an arbitrary cut-off that often falls before the end of high school. The bill proposes a new range from 3 years to 21 years. It passed the committee with a unanimous vote and will now be considered by the House Appropriations Committee.

CHI hosted the first of five Legislative Learning events Wednesday morning. Legislators stopped by to talk about telehealth, the “death with dignity” issue and the work of the Commission on Affordable Health Care – all conversations that helped us understand what’s on their minds. We will continue to host events at the Capitol focused on health care topics, with the final Lunch-and-Learn scheduled for March 18.

Also Wednesday, the five-member Senate Health and Human Services Committee met. Senate Bill 53 passed unanimously. It aims to provide emergency supplies of naloxone (a proven anti-overdose drug) to first responders, treatment center staff, people at risk of overdose, and their family and friends. The drug is safe and non-addictive and it has the potential to save hundreds of lives in Colorado each year. The committee also heard two bills regarding Connect for Health Colorado. The first, Senate Bill 19, calls for a detailed audit of the marketplace and passed the committee unanimously. Senate Bill 52, which requires legislative permission to grant bonuses to Connect for Health Colorado staff, passed narrowly on a 3-2 party-line vote, with Democrats in opposition. 

The extent of the support for the marketplace audit is noteworthy. In addition to the unanimous committee vote, the bill has the backing of advocacy organizations such as the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and even Connect for Health Colorado itself. Gary Drews, the interim CEO, pointed out that his organization has already had two dozen audits and reviews, but said that it continues to look for ways to improve and values transparency. Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R), the committee chair, noted his opposition to the marketplace but said that the audit bill is necessary to make the current system work better. Sen. Linda Newell (D) said that while she voted against an audit last session because it was too early, she now supports the bill and appreciates that Connect for Health Colorado is on board. 

Thursday afternoon, the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee met to discuss two bills. House Bill 1067 would require continuing professional development for psychologists; it passed by an 8-5 margin. House Bill 1029 seeks to expand access to telehealth in all Colorado counties and passed with a unanimous 13-0 vote. The latter bill was supported by the testimony of physicians, the Colorado Hospital Association, Children’s Hospital Colorado, the Colorado Psychiatric Society, and the Colorado Association of Health Plans, among others. CHI will provide a more in-depth look at its bipartisan appeal and implications in a blog next week. If you’d like more background on the subject of telehealth, check out CHI’s recent report, Health Care for a High-Tech World.

In Washington, President Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union address. While the president touched on health care issues, they featured much less prominently than in 2014. He touted the slowing of health care inflation and rising number of the insured. The president also applauded the CVS drug store chain and the country’s Ebola fighters, and mentioned a new Precision Medicine Initiative. On the future of Obamacare, he simply said, “We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance.” CHI will continue to watch and wait for the Supreme Court ruling in King v. Burwell, which challenges the legality of health care subsidies for people in states relying on the federal insurance exchange. That decision is expected by June.