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

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

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

GOP blasted Democrats for the 2019 legislative session. But they supported nearly every bill, analysis shows.

GOP blasted Democrats for the 2019 legislative session. But they supported nearly every bill, analysis shows.

By Sandra Fish (June 19th, 2019)

This year, Republicans accused the Democratic majority at the state Capitol of political overreachstalled contentious legislation for hours and called for recall elections.

But the rancor belies the fact that at least one Republican lawmaker supported all but 19 of the 460 bills approved, meaning 96% won bipartisan support.

The broad agreement is not unusual given the large volume of minor legislation, but the degree to which Republicans sided with Democrats is noteworthy.

Half of the 40 Republicans in the legislature voted for 66% of the bills that passed this year.

The findings are part of a new analysis from The Colorado Sun that looked at the votes cast in the 2019 legislative session by all 100 state lawmakers. The numbers show the Democratic-led statehouse — the first after four years of divided rule — found plenty of middle ground despite partisan divides on big issues, such as oil and gas regulation, a red flag gun lawsex educationpaid family leave and more.

Democrats voted in lockstep on most issues. And much of the bipartisanship is owed to one Republican: Sen. Kevin Priola, an Adams County lawmaker eyeing a tough reelection in 2020 in a swing district. Priola voted for 90% of the bills that the Demcoratic majority advanced in the session.

“Obviously, if you take Kevin Priola out of the equation, the (bipartisan) number goes down quite a bit,” said Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder. “He is very much a member of their caucus. But he also partnered with us on several bills.”

Of the 441 bipartisan bills, 14 passed with only one Republican vote. Priola was the lone GOP vote in favor of seven of those, including a measure to tighten up reporting on campaign donations and another he co-sponsored to ask voters this fall to retain tax money collected above TABOR limits.

“I vote my district, and a lot of that comes from the tens of thousands of calls, conversations I’ve had with voters over the years,” Priola said, explaining his votes in an interview.

When weighing bills, he said he asks himself: “Would the average person at the door think this is reasonable and fair and thought-out and will work, or will the average person think this isn’t going to work?”

In all, nine Republicans in the House and Senate voted with the Democratic majority nearly 70% of the time or more, according to the analysis of voting records. The most bipartisan Republican in the House was Salida Rep. Jim Wilson, who voted in favor of nearly 72% of the bills that passed.

Gov. Jared Polis and Democratic legislative leaders made significant policy shifts in the 120-day lawmaking term, and emphasized their efforts to win GOP votes on legislation. Once he finished signing bills earlier this month, Polis celebrated the “really historic success” of the 2019 session and pointed out that “95% of bills that reached my desk were bipartisan.”

Read Full Story at ColoradoSun.com

Female representation matters. Colorado’s legislature proves that.

Female representation matters. Colorado’s legislature proves that.

By Karen Tumulty (April 12th, 2019)

The corridors of the gold-domed state capitol here are lined with busts and portraits showing what political power used to look like in Colorado. Nearly without exception, the figures depicted in that artwork are male.

But step onto the floor of the Colorado House, and you’ll see something entirely different. In the current legislative session, more than half of the state representatives — 34 out of 65 — are women. Seven of the 11 House committees are chaired by women.

Only once before and only briefly has any legislature in the country experienced a female majority in even one of its chambers. It happened in New Hampshire, where women held 13 out of 24 seats in the state Senate during the 2009-2010 session.

A decade later, there are two: Colorado and Nevada, where women not only constitute a majority in the Assembly, but also hold most of the seats in the legislature as a whole.

This is not just the aftereffect of the 2018 election, which saw record numbers of women running for office. Colorado’s groundswell for more female representation has been building for years, fueled by organizations such as the state chapter of Emerge America, which operates a sort of boot camp for women interested in running at the state and local level.Opinion | This exchange between a Democrat and a CEO should shape the 2020 campaigns

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) grills JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who made $31 million last year, on how a low-paid bank teller is supposed to pay the bills. (Danielle Kunitz, Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

Kathleen Collins “KC” Becker, who got her start on the Boulder City Council, is the third woman in a row to serve as House speaker. “We very diligently recruit women, and train women to run, and hire women as campaign managers,” she said in an interview in her offices just off the chamber. “And so, all of this is intentional. It didn’t just happen that way.”

This year has also seen a record number of women in Colorado’s state Senate, 13 out of a membership of 35. Well over half the agency heads appointed by its new governor, Jared Polis (D), are female.

Read Full Story at WashingtonPost.com

Colorado opioid fight stretches from Denver to D.C.

Colorado opioid fight stretches from Denver to D.C.

By Joey Bunch (May 24th, 2019)

The campaign to curb opioid deaths stretched from Denver to Washington, D.C., this week, as Gov. Jared Polis signed new state laws and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet introduced get-tough legislation on Capitol Hill.

At the Sobriety House treatment facility in Denver Thursday afternoon, Polis signed:

  • Senate Bill 8, to address substance use disorder treatment in the criminal justice system. The bill was sponsored by state Reps. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, and Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, with Sens. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, and Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood.
  • House Bill 1009to provide support for those  recovering from substance use disorders, providing vouchers for housing assistance to some, creating standards for recovery residences and creating the Opioid Crisis Recovery Funds Advisory Committee. The bill was sponsored by Kennedy, Singer, Priola and Pettersen.
  • Senate Bill 19-227, a sweeping piece of legislation aimed at getting drug-overdose medication into schools, expanding the state’s drug take-back program and getting automated external defibrillator devices into more buildings. The bill was sponsored by Pettersen; Kennedy; Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver; and Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver.
  • Senate Bill 228, to provide training and other measures for prescribers to address supply of opiates. The bill was sponsored by Singer; Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminister; Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City; and Rep. Bri Buentello, D-Pueblo.
  • Senate Bill 219, to reauthorize the Colorado Licensing Of Controlled Substances Act with a new requirement to separate the administration of the act from duties relating to treatment facilities that receive public funds. Changes also call for an online central registry for licensed opioid treatment programs to submit information to the state Department of Human Services. The bill was sponsored by Pettersen and Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver.

“This law is focused on people who are going through substance use recovery and are at the end of that spectrum,” Kennedy said in a statement. “Through this bill, we are trying to reintegrate these folks back into the community and break down the barriers they face, like access to housing.”

Singer stated: “The majority of people with a substance use disorder are currently in recovery today. Supporting recovery is the right thing to do, costing the state far less in the long run. This will play a huge role in ending the opioid crisis.”

On May 16 the governor signed Senate Bill 13, which makes any condition for which an opiate has been prescribed eligible for medical marijuana.

Meanwhile in Washington this week, Bennet introduced bipartisan legislation to hold opioid makers more directly accountable for the addiction crisis caused by their products.

Besides extracting more money from drug makers, the Opioid Crisis Accountability Act would hold top company officials criminally liable for violations, while toughening laws on illegal marketing and distribution.

Read Full Story at ColoradoPolitics.com

Colorado Democrats deliver on major changes to health care, education and the environment in dramatic session

Colorado Democrats deliver on major changes to health care, education and the environment in dramatic session

By Nic Garcia (May 3, 2019)

Democratic lawmakers ended their work reshaping Colorado on Friday, delivering on most of their campaign promises before the giant rubber band ball fell to mark the end of the session.

Sweeping changes on education, health care and the environment, coupled with a host of social policy changes such as a ban on gay conversion therapy and new gun control legislation, ensure the 2019 legislative session will be remembered as one of the most transformative in decades.

The General Assembly adjourned Friday night after one of the most conflict-filled legislative sessions in recent memory. The 120 days were punctuated with late nightslong-winded debate and lawsuits.

Nevertheless, Democrats, who had complete control of the legislative agenda for the first time in four years, and Gov. Jared Polis were able to pass legislation they believe will drive down the cost of health carepay for full-day kindergarten and overhaul regulations for the oil and gas industry.

“This is what we ran on,” said state Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat and freshman lawmaker. “This is the transformative policy we fought for.”

Read Full Story at DenverPost.com

House names portion of highway for teacher killed at Columbine

Yesterday we honored the memory of Dave Sanders who gave his life to protect his students at Columbine High School. My cousin was one of the students who made it out thanks to Mr. Sanders and I am grateful that we passed this resolution to honor a true hero.

By Joey Bunch (May 03, 2019)

C-470 from West Bowles Avenue to South Platte Canyon Road in Jefferson County will soon remind commuters of heroism in the face of the Columbine High School massacre 20 years ago.

The Colorado House unanimously approved renaming the seven-mile stretch near the high school the Dave Sanders Memorial Highway Thursday.

The resolution was sponsored by House Republican leader Patrick Neville, who was a student at Columbine that day, and Rep. Tom Sullivan, a Democrat from Centennial whose son Alex was killed in the Aurora theater shooting in 2012.

“I’m watching my future play out in front of me with each anniversary of Columbine,” Sullivan said.

Rep. Colin Larson, R-Littleton, represents the district where the high school is located. He remembered being just a few miles away at his home on April 20, 1999, when two students killed Sanders and 12 students were gunned down.

“It’s a little strange it took 20 years,” the freshman legislator said of the memorial for Sanders. “But this will be a good thing for our community. Everyone who goes to Columbine and the Ken Caryl area will see this highway every day and be reminded of a great man and great hero.”

Sanders was shot in the back as he herded students to safety and bled to death before rescuers could arrive.

Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, read a letter from his cousin Mike Rotolo, who was holed up in a a science classroom where Sanders died.

Rotolo recalled how Sanders told them to tell his daughters he loved them.

“That day Dave Sanders showed me and a science classroom full of 16-year-olds what true love is — selfless, unconditional love. That is what I choose to remember,” Kennedy said, reading from the letter.

Neville recalled his freshman computer teacher’s patience trying to teach him to type, to focus on the fundamentals even if it slowed him down until he mastered the skill.

Neville said he tries to channel that patience over his natural stubbornness still.

“I’m humbled that I’m in a position to be part of this,” he told the House.

Then he led a chant. Neville said, “We are …” and lawmakers from across Colorado added “Columbine.”

All 65 members of the House added their names as co-sponsors of the resolution.

Read full story at ColoradoPolitics.com