Still optimistic after all these years

Still optimistic after all these years

It’s hard to believe this whirlwind of a year is nearly over. At the end of the landmark 2019 legislative session, I had to take a step back before I could fully appreciate everything we accomplished.

We passed legislation to lower the cost of health care; invest in education, transportation, and affordable housing; accelerate our transition to clean energy; make our schools safer; expand mental health access; reform our criminal justice system; fight the opioid epidemic; expand the rights of every Coloradan, including voting rights, reproductive rights, and rights to self-expression; and protect the clean air, clean water, and beautiful open spaces that make Colorado such a special place to live.

Years like this are why people run for office. When bills become laws and begin to impact people’s lives, we remember that our democratic republic often succeeds at expanding opportunities for people to live better, happier, and healthier lives – as long as we elect the right people.

Even when Americans are subjected to horrifying news nearly every day from the Trump administration, our progress here in Colorado keeps me feeling optimistic about the future.

Next session, we’ll be continuing our work on all of these issues, and believe me, it’s a lot of work. There will be obstacles and setbacks, lies and distortions, and a whole lot of money spent on lobbying and advertising by the defenders of the status quo. As soon as soon as the session ends in early May, my colleagues and I will be hitting the campaign trail again to talk to voters about the work we’ve done and ask for their support so we can keep moving Colorado forward.

On that note, it should be no surprise that I’m running for reelection in 2020! It’s been such an honor to represent the people of House District 23 and to help lead the state as the Assistant Majority Leader of the Colorado House of Representatives. Please join me for a Holiday Happy Hour & Fundraiser on December 17th to celebrate the progress we made for the people of Colorado this year and to prepare for another great year!

Together, we really can change the world for the better. Thank you for doing your part. I’ll certainly keep doing mine.

Legislative committee advances five substance abuse bills

Legislative committee advances five substance abuse bills

By Michael Karlik (October 30th, 2019)

Legislators are eyeing new mandates on providers of healthcare, as laid out in five bills forwarded to the General Assembly on Monday.

The Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Study Committee formed in 2017 to review substance-use disorders, medication-assisted treatment and gaps in the system of care.

Bill 1 would limit co-payments that acupuncturists and physical or occupational therapists could charge, as well as requiring insurance carriers to cover acupuncture and physical therapy visits in their plans.

The bill also makes permanent the requirement of opioid prescribers to limit new patients to a seven-day supply and to check with the state’s prescription drug monitoring program before refilling a prescription. Pharmacies upload prescriptions for some categories of medications to the program for providers to check before assigning drugs to patients.

Elsewhere in the package of legislation, insurance companies would be required to cover treatment for substance-use disorders.

Legislators also addressed opioid addiction within the criminal justice system, requiring jails and the Department of Corrections to provide treatment to those with an addiction, and to continue their treatment throughout their incarceration.

For the general population of Colorado, Bill 2 would extend legal protections to people who deliver expired opioid-countering drugs like naloxone, as well as requiring insurance to pay for such drugs if administered in a hospital.

Finally, legislators would direct millions of dollars into a range of programs. Individual placement and support programs would receive $2 million per year. Housing assistance would increase five-fold, to $5 million. A tweak to the definition of child abuse would include any instance of a baby being born affected by alcohol or other substance, unless prescribed. 

“There is not one silver bullet to address the opioid epidemic; it’s a complex, enormous problem,” said Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, said in a statement. “While today we passed the most impactful package we’ve seen yet, I know that our work isn’t done, and we are committed to continuing the work to address this crisis.”

Deaths due to opioids, either by prescription or heroin, numbered 9.8 per 100,000 Coloradans in 2017. That is nearly a 400% increase from 1999. Methamphetamine deaths were a distant second, and all drug deaths combined placed Colorado slightly below the national average of 21.7 overdose deaths per 100,000 people.

Read Full Story at ColoradoPolitics.com

Thinking Outside The Bottle

By Cory Phare (October 30th, 2019)

When the 72nd Colorado General Assembly launches its legislative session Jan. 8, it will have the opportunity to pass an innovative approach to stemming the opioid crisis: making alternative pain-management treatment as affordable as potentially addictive prescriptions.

On Tuesday, the legislature’s bipartisan Opioid and Substance Use Disorders Interim Study Committee advanced to the house a bill that would force insurers to cover opioid alternatives such as acupuncture, physical and occupational therapy and less-addictive drugs.

“In Colorado, we’re really on the cutting edge here,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy (D-Lakewood), the bill’s sponsor. “There are a lot of leads that people have been following on both the state and federal level, but this is taking it one step further. Rather than making it harder to get opioids, we want to make it easier to get alternative treatments for pain management.”

The committee, on which Kennedy serves as co-chair, is also planning to advance four other bills related to prevention, harm reduction, criminal-justice reform and recovery. This is the committee’s third round of attempting a comprehensive approach to address opioid addiction across the state, Kennedy said.

“This package of bills is unlike others we’ve seen before, both locally and nationally,” he said.

Read Full Story at Red.MSUDenver.edu

My 2019 Endorsements

Ballots were mailed out last week for the 2019 election. For those of you on my list who live outside of Lakewood or Jeffco, the rest of this email may not be very interesting, but you can read my positions on the statewide ballot measures here.

I know I’m a little late in announcing my endorsements for Lakewood City Council and Jeffco School Board, but I moderated a candidate forum last weekend and I decided to wait so that all candidates would feel they were treated fairly. But now that the forum is behind us, here are my 2019 endorsements:

Lakewood City Council
This year has been a contentious one with growth being the central issue on most voters’ minds. The candidates I’m endorsing have all expressed thoughtfulness about this issue. Rather than kneejerk reactions and faux-populist politics, these candidates will work to balance these growth concerns with other priorities like affordability, inclusivity, and sustainability.

Mayor – Adam Paul
Ward 1 – Kyra deGruy
Ward 2 – Sharon Vincent
Ward 3 – Henry Hollender
Ward 4 – Christopher Arlen
Ward 5 – Dana Gutwein

With the right leadership, I believe our city is capable of managing growth the right way while increasing access to affordable housing in the parts of Lakewood that need it the most. And I believe these candidates will truly prioritize sustainability and work to make sure Lakewood is doing it’s part to fight climate change.

There are also two municipal ballot measures in Lakewood this year, and I’m voting yes on both.

2F – I’m voting yes to modernize our trash/recycling system in Lakewood. We can have better service, lower cost, and fewer trash trucks driving up our streets every week if we just choose to work together rather than choosing to have everyone go it alone.

2G – I’m voting yes to give Lakewood future opportunities to create public-private partnerships to expand broadband access.

Jeffco School Board
After some turbulent years, Jeffco voters made a course correction in 2015. Since then, we’ve had a school board focused on working together for the benefit of Jeffco kids. I’m supporting candidates who will keep Jeffco moving forward.

District 3 – Stephanie Schooley
District 4 – Joan Chavez-Lee

Remember, these candidates run district-wide, so you can vote for one candidate in each district.

That’s all for now. Get more information about voting at https://www.jeffco.us/elections, or email me here at any time! Thanks for voting!!

I’m Voting Yes on CC, DD, & 1A

This November, I’m voting Yes on Proposition CC, Yes on Proposition DD, and Yes on Jeffco Question 1A.

Prop CC allows the state to keep revenues above the outdated TABOR formula to increase investments in K-12, higher education, and transportation. This formula is why Colorado is $2500 per kid below the national average in funding our public schools and why we haven’t been able to adequately maintain our transportation infrastructure. While Prop CC doesn’t solve all of our budget woes, it’s a big step in the right direction. Prop CC doesn’t raise tax rates; it just lets us keep what Coloradans have already paid. And we’ll know exactly where the dollars go with an annual, independent audit. Learn more at YesOnPropCC.com.

Prop DD legalizes sports betting in Colorado, imposes a new tax on casino profits, and uses the bulk of the new revenues to fund the Colorado Water Plan. The 2018 Supreme Court decision would have made online sports betting available in Colorado regardless of whether we took action, so it makes sense to allow Colorado businesses to participate and pay taxes on their new profits to fund a critical state priority – the future of our water supply. Learn more at YesOnDD.com.

Jeffco Question 1A is similar to Prop CC but for the county budget instead of the state. If 1A doesn’t pass, the same outdated budget formula will force huge cuts to public safety and other critical county services. And here’s another fun fact. If Prop CC passes, Jeffco will receive over $1M in transportation funding from the state next year – but we won’t get to keep it unless we also pass 1A. This is an example of how badly these budget formulas need to be updated. Learn more at KeepJeffcoSafe.com.

Please email me at chris@kennedy4co.com if you have questions about these ballot measures or anything else!

How copays are contributing to the opioid epidemic in Colorado

How copays are contributing to the opioid epidemic in Colorado

By Anusha Roy (September 30th, 2019)

DENVER — A copay could be the tipping point for someone to become addicted to opioids, depending on a patient’s health insurance, according to Dr. Jonathan Clapp, a pain specialist with Porter Adventist Hospital. He said he’s seen this problem first-hand.

“Say a patient comes into my office, and they have a knee problem that could be addressed with physical therapy. If we could work on strengthening and flexibility, we could fix the problem,” he said. “But because it can sometimes cost $80 out-of-pocket for every physical therapy session, it’s really hard for someone to afford that.”

That’s when doctors get caught between trying to treat pain and not bankrupting their patients, according to Clapp.

“Before we can get other things approved, and wait two or three days in a best-case scenario to get the right medicine, we still had to expose them to these medications, and it may have just ruined their life,” Clapp said. “It’s very hard for us to live with.”

For two years, Clapp reached out to lawmakers to change this, and in the process, he began working with State Rep. Chris Kennedy (D-Lakewood) to work on a potential new law that would change insurance policies in Colorado that are regulated by the state.

Kennedy said one prong of the proposal would work on making non-opioid medication and less-addictive opioid medications more affordable. 

“Oxycodone would probably still be cheaper, but the hope is we are closing the gap,” Kennedy said.

The second prong would include giving the Colorado Division of Insurance the authority to identify other treatments like physical therapy, occupational therapy and acupuncture as good alternatives for pain that might otherwise lead to an opioid prescription. 

The goal, according to Kennedy, is to require insurance companies to make these kinds of treatments more affordable, including limiting out-of-pocket costs and insurance deductibles.

Kennedy said physical therapy is considered an essential health benefit under the Affordable Care Act, so it’s offered in every Colorado insurance plan right now. but the concern is the cost.

Read Full Story at 9News.com

Denver-area hospitals made a record $2 billion in profits in 2018, according to a new report

Denver-area hospitals made a record $2 billion in profits in 2018, according to a new report

By John Ingold (September 13th, 2019)

For 25 years, health care analyst Allan Baumgarten has been studying the hospital market in Colorado, and his new report will show something it never has before: Denver-area hospitals surged past the $2 billion mark in profits in 2018.

The 27 metro-area hospitals Baumgarten includes in his report made just over $2 billion in pre-tax profits in 2018, compared with $1.7 billion in 2017 and $1.3 billion in 2016, according to his calculations.

The latest number represents a 19.3% profit margin for the hospitals, as a percent of net patient revenues, and it’s a full percentage point higher than the 18.1% margins hospitals reported in 2017, according to Baumgarten’s findings. The money the hospitals made from patient care increased 9.2% for Denver-area hospitals in 2018, while the hospitals’ cost of treating those patients increased only 4.1%. Inpatient hospital days — a measurement of patient volume — creeped up only about 1%.

“That’s the kind of spread a Wall Street analyst would find very impressive,” Baumgarten said Thursday at a meeting of the Colorado Business Group on Health, where he presented a first-look at his every-other-year report. The final report will be available in the coming weeks.

“That’s not a lot of growth,” he said of the patient volume figure. “That’s not a lot of increased utilization. That suggests to me that it’s not utilization that’s driving increased revenues, it’s the prices.”

Many hospitals outside of the metro area also turned solid — but not record — profits, according to the report. The 28 largest non-metro hospitals collectively made $769 million in pre-tax profits in 2018, down slightly from the $781 million they made in 2017. Their margins also fell, to 13.2% from 14.3%.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Hospital Association said the association had identified “numerous significant errors” in an earlier version of Baumgarten’s data and had concerns about the accuracy of his figures. The spokeswoman, Julie Lonborg, said the association has not received a final report from Baumgarten and could not comment on specifics.

But she confirmed that hospitals saw increased profit overall in 2018.

“This is partially a function of Colorado’s strong economy and a focus on controlling costs as we work on improved affordability,” Lonborg wrote in an email.

Read Full Story at ColoradoSun.com

September Update

Well, it’s been another busy summer!

I’ll admit that I’ve made some time to get up into the mountains and enjoy our beautiful state, but I’ve also had plenty of work to keep me going. In addition to general meetings about constituent and policy issues that we might address next session, I’m serving on two interim committees that are each diving deep into big topics.

First, I’m in my third summer on the Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders committee in which we’re continuing our work to improve prevention, treatment, and recovery services in Colorado. Second, I’m on the Investor-Owned Utility committee in which we are looking at the regulations that govern Xcel Energy and other IOUs to ensure we’re maximizing progress on moving toward clean energy while consumers are protected from any unfair billing practices.

It’s an interesting experience to get involved in so many diverse topics, and I continue to be grateful you all elected me to this crazy job.

One last thing. The Lakewood delegation will be resuming our monthly town halls this month, starting Saturday. September 21st at 10:00am at the West Metro Fire HQ (433 S Allison Pkwy, Lakewood). We’ve invited all of the 2019 Jeffco School Board candidates and the supporting and opposing campaigns for statewide and countywide ballot measures (CC, DD, & 1A).

Our next meetings will be on October 19th and November 16th, same time and location. Then we’ll skip December and start up again in January.

I hope to see you at one or more of the town halls, but if you can’t make it, you can always email me to share your thoughts and questions!

It’s Not Just For First Responders Anymore. Health Experts Want Regular Coloradans To Have Naloxone On Hand

It’s Not Just For First Responders Anymore. Health Experts Want Regular Coloradans To Have Naloxone On Hand

By John Daley (August 1st, 2019)

State health leaders want more Coloradans to get involved with fighting the opioid crisis. They want people to bring home naloxone, the life-saving medication that reverses an opioid overdose.

Last year, opioid overdoses claimed 543 lives in Colorado. But those numbers could have been lower, according to Robert Valuck, who spoke to a crowd Thursday from the steps of the state Capitol.

“One of our fellow citizens died from opioid overdose every 16 hours last year, and many of those people could have been saved by naloxone,” said Valuck, who heads the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention.

His group is leading the $320,000 Bring Naloxone Home public awareness campaign, funded by the state. The goal is to spread the use of naloxone beyond medical providers and first responders. The campaign plans to get the word out through print, outdoor, transit, social media and online media.

Sen. Brittany Pettersen, a Democrat from Lakewood, explained she used the medication to help save her mother, who overdosed on heroin many times, and eventually got into recovery.

“Obviously people don’t have a chance of recovery and getting the treatment they need and living their fullest life if they’re not saved to begin with,” Pettersen said. “She would not have had the chance to move toward recovery, even with access to treatment, if first responders didn’t have naloxone, and if I didn’t have naloxone in my home.”

Another speaker, Michael Miller, said it saved his life three times when he was dealing with addiction.

“It was paramedics in all the cases of my overdose reversals. And I would absolutely be gone, if not for naloxone,” said Miller, who now works as Opioid Initiatives Coordinator for Jefferson County’s public health department.

Kathleen Hernandez knows how important it is to have it available. She went shopping at a King Soopers in an affluent part of Colorado Springs. A woman in her 20s collapsed at the entrance. Hernandez pulled out a naloxone kit from her purse and sprayed it up the woman’s nose.

“I think she would have died. I really do. She quit breathing, the guy she was with was freaking out. He obviously had been through it with her before, but I don’t know if she would have survived, I don’t think she would have,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez works in drug treatment center, as a recovery coordinator for Aspen Pointe, so it’s not surprising she carries naloxone. But she says many ordinary citizens don’t.

Democratic Rep. Chris Kennedy, of Lakewood, said those using opioids should have the medication nearby. “People who are using recreational pills have naloxone handy, it’ll be the best $75 you ever spent,” he said.

The cost is often lower than that and often covered by insurance.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams advises anyone exposed to opioids know how to use naloxone and purchase it to keep it nearby in an emergency. A standing order by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment lets any Colorado resident buy the drug at a pharmacy simply by requesting it.

Naloxone has saved 1,122 lives in Colorado since 2017, according to the consortium. Now the goal is to save more.

Read Full Story at CPR.org

Kennedy Issues Statement on Supreme Court Gerrymandering Decision

By House Democrats (June 27th, 2019)

In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this morning on partisan gerrymandering, Assistant Majority Leader Chris Kennedy, who serves as the chair of the House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee, issued the following statement:

“The Supreme Court’s decision today is devastating to our fundamental democratic principle of equal representation under the law, throwing the door wide open for states to advance partisan political gain over the interests of the people,” said Rep. Kennedy. “Over the past few years we have seen the Supreme Court erode the protections provided under the Voting Rights Act, and many states took swift action to restrict voting rights. Now politicians will be able to gerrymander with impunity, diluting the fair representation of underserved communities and drawing legislative maps to benefit their own parties.

“Thankfully, here in Colorado we have established guardrails to help prevent partisan influence in redistricting, but in much of the rest of the country, no such protections exist. It now falls to the states to step up and implement safeguards to ensure that voters pick their elected officials, not the other way around, and our core democracy is protected.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling today essentially declared that federal courts don’t have a role in protecting against political gerrymandering. In November 2018, Colorado voters overwhelmingly approved legislatively-referred Amendments Y and Z to task independent commissions with drawing electoral maps for state legislative and Congressional districts. 

Read Full Story at COHouseDems.com