Slow Start, Fast Finish, Political Shenanigans Define Important Session for Health

Democrats arrived at the state Capitol on January 4 in a commanding position, with an active new governor in Jared Polis and majorities in both the House and Senate. They expected their Republican colleagues to try to derail priority agenda items — but the extent to which the minority was able to stifle bills and slow the process seemed to catch Democrats off guard.

The legislative session featured late-night debates over politically thorny issues, a Republican walkout on a Friday, and a controversial decision by Senate President Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo) to keep working during the “bomb cyclone” storm that closed roads and offices throughout the state. Republicans threatened recall elections and filed a successful lawsuit over Democrats’ use of computers to simultaneously speed-read bills. It was, in short, a wild few months.

Politics and partisanship aside, the 2019 session was heavy on substantial health policy, and Democratic leadership came away with a long list of victories. CHI recaps the debates and outcomes in its annual Legislation in Review report, published today.

Major themes emerged as the dust settled:

Sizable Steps Toward Saving People Money

The cost of health care was a focal point for Polis and legislators on both sides of the aisle, and 2019 will be remembered as a watershed session for both new options and new regulations designed to save Coloradans money.

Hospitals: Bruised but Not Broken

Scrutiny over hospital profits and community benefit was magnified this session. While many bills targeted hospitals and providers, hospitals played defense with some success.

Oil and Gas Takes a Back Seat to Health

It’s not the Green New Deal being floated in Congress, but a package of bills passed in the 2019 session will set targets for reduced greenhouse gas emissions, regulate oil and gas development, and gather data on climate change.

A Run for the Money in Behavioral Health

While there were notable wins on behavioral health issues, such as stronger mental health parity requirements and more funding for substance use disorder treatment services, many bills were not awarded as much money as proponents had hoped.

A Roller Coaster for Community Health

Debates over public safety, affordable housing, wages, and funding for health programs took center stage this year. While there were big wins for Democrats, some community health-focused bills were scaled back or defeated altogether.

The summer will be busy for state agencies and nonpartisan staff who are charged with convening stakeholder groups, completing studies, preparing ballot initiatives, and submitting waivers as directed by successful bills. The same group of legislators will be back next January for the 2020 session, but it will be an election year for three-quarters of them — and an election year for the U.S. president, which is sure to drive interest and turnout.

For now, we focus on lessons from 2019. Get CHI’s take in 2019 Legislation in Review.

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