Over 70% of Coloradans want state to create board for lowering prescription drug costs

Over 70% of Coloradans want state to create board for lowering prescription drug costs

By Hannah Metzger (February 3, 2021)

The vast majority of Coloradans want the state the create a board intended to lower the cost of prescription drugs, according to a poll released by the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.

The poll found that 77% of respondents supported a state board of appointed healthcare experts that would work to lower the cost of prescription drugs. After hearing arguments against the board, over 70% of respondents still supported it.

Adam Fox, deputy director of the CCHI, said Coloradans pay 60% to 85% more than people in other countries for the same prescription drugs.

“We know pharmaceutical companies still make a profit in those countries,” Fox said. “We can lower the costs of the most unaffordable drugs with a Prescription Drug Affordability Board and save Coloradans money.”

In Colorado, nearly one in three people skip doses, cut pills or don’t fill needed prescriptions because they cannot afford it, according to state data.

CCHI has collected numerous firsthand accounts from Coloradans who face such difficulties.

“When I experience a sudden change in my medication’s price, I cut back in my other areas of my health care,” said Sandra from Adams County. “I don’t fill my prescriptions. I don’t make appointments.”

“My friends often have to choose to pay rent or pay for their medication,” said Tania from Broomfield County. “Sometimes this means skipping rent for a month so that they can afford their medications.”

The Prescription Drug Affordability Board is currently being promoted to the state by health care advocates. The board would consist of a panel of experts to establish more affordable costs for the most expensive prescription drugs.

Support for the board is evident across every major demographic group, according to the CCHI poll.

The board was supported by 94% of Democrats, 80% of unaffiliated voters, 54% of Republicans, 82% of 18- to 44-year-olds, 72% of 45- to 64-year-olds and 74% of those 65 and up. Support was also steady across genders and incomes.

“Drugs don’t work if people cannot afford them,” Fox said. “No one should be forced to choose between filling a prescription they need for their health and paying their rent or putting food on the table.”

Read more on ColoradoPolitics.com

Environment Colorado lauds state’s rank on renewables in its new report

Environment Colorado lauds state’s rank on renewables in its new report

By Joey Bunch (October 27, 2020)

Environment Colorado released a report Tuesday that shows this state to be a powerhouse when it comes to renewable sources.

Colorado ranks seventh among for growth in wind energy production and ninth for energy efficiency, according to the Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center.

Called “Renewables on the Rise 2020,” the report measured growth over the past decade for solar and wind, battery storage, energy efficiency and electric vehicles.

“We’ve made so much progress here in Colorado toward a cleaner, healthier future powered by renewable energy over the last ten years,” Hannah Collazo, state director for Environment Colorado Research & Policy Center, said in a statement Tuesday. “The gains we’ve seen, especially in wind power and solar power should give Coloradans the confidence we need to aim even higher. We need to pick up the pace when it comes to battery storage and electric vehicle sales.”

She said Colorado ranks 19th in utility scale battery storage and 11th in cumulative electric sales.

“Quickly adopting renewable energy technologies to power our state is one way to address the wildfires ravaging Colorado,” Collazo said.

You can read the report by clicking here.

Gov. Jared Polis has accelerated Colorado’s pace since taking office. He set a goal to get the state to 100% renewable energy by 2040 and signed a package of legislation to help electric vehicles and charging station his first year in office.

That effort has been led in the House was Reps. Chris Kennedy, a Democrat from Lakewood, and Sen. Chris Hansen of Denver, who argue that renewables is an affordable investment for a high return in savings and less climate and health effects.

“These environmental issues have been a priority for me for a long time,” Kennedy said on a press call about the new report Tuesday. 

He said it was the Bush administration’s failures on climate change that drove him to get into politics.

“I’m thrilled about the progress we’ve made,” Kennedy said. “We’ve still got some work to do … and yet the work that we’ve done in Colorado has really set us up for success.”

Read more at ColoradoPolitics.com and ColoradoNewsline.com

Reinsurance program to lower health premiums by average of 21%, state reports

Reinsurance program to lower health premiums by average of 21%, state reports

By Michael Karlik, (October 8, 2020)

During the open enrollment period for health insurance from Nov. 1 through Jan. 15, the state calculated its reinsurance program will save consumers an average of nearly 21% on their premiums for the coming year compared to what rates would be in the program’s absence.

“A big reason why I ran for Governor was to save people money on healthcare, and I’m excited that we are making progress with 20.8% average premium savings in the individual market from reinsurance, with rates coming down an average of 1.4% for next year,” said Gov. Jared Polis in a statement. “But we can’t rest on our laurels, we must do more to drive down health care costs.”

Colorado’s reinsurance is a fee-based, state-administered program to reimburse insurers up to a capped amount on claims. 

“We’ve staved off larger rate increases, but now is the time to move forward with a public option designed to lower costs and meet Coloradans’ needs,” said Adam Fox, deputy director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, which advocates for equity and affordability in healthcare. “This is especially true with the Supreme Court case that could strip coverage from hundreds of thousands of Coloradans if it strikes down the ACA.”

Fox’s reference was to the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 healthcare reform bill that established state and federal health insurance exchanges, and through which Colorado received its reinsurance program waiver. The U.S. Supreme Court will take up a case that questions the constitutionality of the law.

CCHI also pointed out that the number of counties in Colorado with only one insurance carrier will shrink from 22 to 10. However, rate changes filed with the Division of Insurance will vary significantly, with decreases planned for some parts of the state and double digit percentage increases in others.

Read more on ColoradoPolitics.com

$4.8 Million Utility Assistance Program Launches

$4.8 Million Utility Assistance Program Launches

Provided by Colorado Senate Democrats (September 11, 2020)

Critical relief funds available for struggling Coloradans in the wake of COVID-19

DENVER, CO – Today, state lawmakers and Energy Outreach Colorado announced that $4.8 million in utility assistance for consumers is now available. HB20-1412, sponsored by Senators Tammy Story and Rachel Zenzinger and Representatives Chris Kennedy and Lisa Cutter, directed the federal CARES Act funding to Energy Outreach Colorado’s Bill Payment Assistance Program to provide critical relief to those who are facing economic hardship due to COVID-19.  

“In the wake of COVID-19, Coloradans are facing unemployment at unprecedented rates. This in turn, is creating ripple effects across the economy and putting many people’s basic needs at risk,” said Sen. Zenzinger, D- Arvada. “And with winter barreling towards us, it is more important than ever that we protect home energy reliability. I encourage anyone that is struggling to afford their utilities to apply today!”

“As temperatures swing from near 100 degrees to below freezing, many Coloradans are looking for a little help to pay their utility bills and make ends meet during this pandemic,” said Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County. “Energy Outreach Colorado will use the funding we allocated to help thousands of hardworking Coloradans avoid having to choose between putting food on their table or falling behind on their bills, and I urge anyone who may need help to reach out for assistance.”

“Falling behind on utility bills isn’t just stressful, it’s debilitating. And unfortunately, it’s all too common for hardworking families right now,” said Sen. Story, D-Evergreen. “People need to know that their heating isn’t just going to disappear one day because they haven’t been able to make payments. That’s why we have dedicated millions to utility assistance programs– so families aren’t forced to choose between rent and their electricity.” 

“The need for utility assistance has never been higher, and winter is just around the corner,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood. “The legislation we passed set aside $4.8 million for direct utility relief for consumers. If you need help paying your utility bills, Energy Outreach can provide some assistance, especially if you haven’t been able to access other forms of relief, such as unemployment benefits or direct stimulus payments from the IRS.” 

In May, the General Assembly passed HB20-1412, which put $4.8 million of federal CARES Act funding towards bolstering energy assistance initiatives. Energy Outreach Colorado, a local nonprofit that leads a network of industry, state, and local partners to assist Coloradans in affording their energy needs, is working in conjunction with state officials to allocate the funds to those in need. 

“People are struggling to get safely through this pandemic, and EOC is committed to providing as much support and assistance as we can to relieve some of their worries,” said Jennifer Gremmert, Executive Director of EOC.

To be eligible, residents must meet certain income qualifications and be currently facing a utility shortage or impending shutoff. People can apply at https://www.energyoutreach.org/programs or call 1-866-432-8435 for help. Applicants will then work directly with a caseworker at a corresponding partner agency, who will guide them through the process, determine eligibility, and authorize bill payments.

Read more at einnews.com.

Guest commentary: Hickenlooper has proven he is effective leader for affordable health care

Guest commentary: Hickenlooper has proven he is effective leader for affordable health care

By Chris Kennedy (September 1, 2020)

As our country deals with an unprecedented global pandemic, I’m tempted to tell you stories about John Hickenlooper, crisis governor, who effectively guided Colorado through fires, floods, and mass shootings. But instead, I’m going to tell you about Gov. John Hickenlooper’s bold initiatives to reform our broken health care system. Gov. Hickenlooper’s commitment to improving access and reducing costs in our health care system contrasts sharply to the more-than-disappointing record of Sen. Cory Gardner.

As a Colorado House of Representatives staffer from 2010-2013 and as a representative myself since 2017, I saw firsthand what Gov. Hickenlooper did for people struggling to afford high-quality health care coverage. The Affordable Care Act, while imperfect, was a huge step forward for many reasons, including protections for people with preexisting conditions. In 2011, one of then-Congressman Gardner’s very first votes in Congress was to repeal the ACA. That same year, Gov. Hickenlooper signed a bill establishing Connect for Health Colorado, a cost-effective and transparent tool to help people shop for health insurance. And he appointed a health care reformer, Sue Birch, to head the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing where she led efforts to integrate behavioral and physical health care and move away from fee-for-service and towards paying-for-value in our Medicaid program.

In May 2013, as Congressman Gardner voted for the 37 th time to gut the ACA, Hickenlooper signed the Medicaid expansion bill, giving coverage to half a million more Coloradans. Also in 2013, Hickenlooper signed an executive order establishing the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, a first-of-its-kind collaboration that has helped Colorado emerge as a national leader on fighting the opioid crisis, which is killing nearly 50,000 Americans each year even while COVID-19 has killed 173,000 this year.

In 2014, Congressional Republicans–including Cory Gardner–finally achieved one of their goals and defunded the risk corridors program, which was a critical component of the ACA designed to ensure costs wouldn’t spike in rural regions like Colorado’s western slope, where people pay some of the highest insurance premiums in the whole country. This action directly contributed to the huge increases in premiums over the next several years. The premium increases were so bad that many people opted out of buying health insurance at all. The reduced enrollment elevated the risk of a potential collapse of the individual market that would shift higher costs onto everyone else. Toward the end of the 2017 session, Gov. Hickenlooper’s team approached me about sponsoring a bill to study the potential for a “reinsurance” program to reduce premiums, stabilize the market, and prevent the cost shift.

In 2018,  Hickenlooper supported me and my colleagues as we took on the corporate health care interests to establish a reinsurance program. We passed the bill in the House with bipartisan support, but it was killed by the GOP Senate majority. But we tried again in 2019 with Democratic majorities in both House and Senate, passing the reinsurance bill which reduced premiums on the individual market by an average of 20.2% in the first year.

Governor Hickenlooper also had our back on demanding cost transparency from hospitals and drug companies, protecting consumers from surprise bills at free-standing emergency rooms, and several other strategies to reduce the high cost of health care. And, he appointed more reformers to top positions in his cabinet including Donna Lynne, Michael Conway, and Kim Bimestefer.

As governor, Hickenlooper worked tirelessly to clean up the mess Gardner helped create. And now we need him to do it again. Over his decade in Washington, Cory Gardner has shown us exactly who he is–a Trump loyalist who consistently sides with big corporations at the expense of regular, hard-working Americans. Even during this pandemic, Gardner has worked with Trump to rip care from hundreds of thousands of Coloradans and gut protections for millions of Coloradans with pre-existing conditions.

I’m voting for John Hickenlooper this November because I’ve seen his character and commitment to getting things done for regular folks. I’m voting for John because he wants to build on the ACA, not repeal it. I’m voting for John because he knows we can add competition to the market and further reduce costs by creating a public option, allowing Medicare to negotiate with big drug companies to get better prices, and expand access to telemedicine.

Especially during these difficult times, we need leaders who will fight for a better future for all of our neighbors. Please join me in voting for John Hickenlooper for U.S. Senate this November.

Chris Kennedy represents House District 23 in Lakewood and Central Jeffco and serves as Assistant Majority Leader.

Read more at DenverPost.com

The memory of Beau Biden permeates Democrats’ run for the White House

The memory of Beau Biden permeates Democrats’ run for the White House

By Ernest Luning (August 21, 2020)

Few figures loom over the events at this year’s Democratic National Convention — and the race for the White House that’s about to hit high gear — as much as Beau Biden, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s late son, who died of an aggressive form of brain cancer five years ago at age 46.

His father, the former vice president, has said his 2020 run has been inspired by a desire to fulfill his son’s promise, to make him proud.

Joe Biden’s choice of a running mate, too, owes plenty to Beau Biden, who was serving his second term as Delaware’s attorney general when he died. U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, a former California attorney general, was close friends with the younger Biden, and the strength of that relationship played a key role in the elder Biden inviting her to join the ticket.

Just days after nominating his father for a second term as vice president at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Beau Biden flew to the pivotal swing state of Colorado to speak at the Eleanor Roosevelt Dinner, thrown by the Democratic Party in Jefferson County, considered one of the premier battleground counties in the country that year.

At the time, Beau was already attracting attention as a potential presidential candidate. If there was going to be a President Biden, local Democrats buzzed, there was a good chance it would be the young man speaking that night at their annual fundraiser.

“He was really kind and open and enthusiastic to meet people. You could see his father in him that way,” state Rep. Chris Kennedy, the Jeffco Democrats’ chair in 2012, recalled this week, adding that it had been a coup to land a speaker on such a trajectory.

“He knocked people’s socks off. People really liked what he had to say. A lot of people, including people who’ve been to a hundred of these dinners, just loved it. He left a huge impression — he was definitely a rising star.”

Joe Biden, it turns out, had similar thoughts.

In his 2017 memoir recounting the year his son died, “Promise Me, Dad,” Joe Biden wrote, “Beau Biden, at age forty-five, was Joe Biden 2.0. He had all the best of me, but with the bugs and flaws engineered out. I was pretty sure Beau could run for president some day and, with his brother’s help, he could win.”

Earlier this year, before a come-from-behind win in the South Carolina primary stemmed a series of losses in early contests and propelled him to the nomination, Biden told “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough that his son’s memory weighed on his moves.

“Beau should be the one running for president, not me,” Biden said. “Every morning I get up, Joe, not a joke, and I think to myself, ‘Is he proud of me?'”

Biden’s first wife, Neila, and their daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car accident that severely injured brothers Beau and Hunter in 1972, soon after he was first elected to the Senate from Delaware.

Before he was elected attorney general, Beau Biden worked as a federal prosecutor. He served more than a decade in the Delaware Army National Guard and deployed with his unit to Iraq in 2008 and 2009.

Beau Biden’s speech at the 2012 DNC fell on the final night of the convention in Charlotte, before his father and President Barack Obama would bring down the house accepting the nominations inside the packed Time Warner Cable Arena.

“For me, the most memorable moment of the past four years was not something most Americans saw,” Beau Biden said at the DNC. “It wasn’t even on American soil. It took place in Iraq, at Camp Victory, where I was stationed. It was the Fourth of July in 2009. My father was there on an unannounced visit to salute our troops. I watched as he led a naturalization ceremony in one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces for a couple hundred men and women from all branches of our military.

“As he led those new Americans through the oath of citizenship, this celebration of democracy in the land of a deposed dictator, I was struck by the strength and diversity of our country. I was reminded why we as a nation are stronger when everybody has a chance to do their part.”

About an hour before Beau Biden spoke, U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights icon who died last month, took the stage, followed by a young Denver attorney and Army Ranger veteran named Jason Crow, who was elected to Congress in 2018 and is seeking a second term this year.

The day before, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette helped kick off the proceedings with a tribute to the women serving with her in Congress, and a few hours later then-Gov. John Hickenlooper talked about Colorado’s recovery from the Great Recession. Soon after, California’s attorney general, Kamala Harris appeared on stage.

In Harris’ first public appearance after being designated Biden’s running mate earlier this month, she spoke about her bond with Beau.

“Ever since I received Joe’s call, I’ve been thinking about the first Biden I really came to know — Joe’s son, Beau,” she said. She recalled that she “spoke on the phone practically every day, sometimes multiple times a day” with Beau on efforts to resolve the foreclosure crisis.

Biden also referenced their friendship in a post about his vice presidential pick: “I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people, and protected women and kids from abuse. I was proud then, and I’m proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign.”

At the Democrats’ fundraising dinner in Jefferson County eight years ago, Beau Biden built on comments he’d made a few days earlier in Charlotte, swinging hard at Republican nominees Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and their budget proposals.

He also jabbed at a flub Ryan had recently made when the notorious fitness buff boasted he’d run a marathon in what would have been Olympic-qualifying time of under three hours.

“I believe his math. I don’t believe his marathon times,” Biden told the Jeffco Democrats, adding that he found it “remarkable” that Ryan had gotten so confused.

“He continues to revise it upward, he’s around four hours now. My mom ran a marathon in about four hours, a little over four hours — I think my mom could take him,” he said, referring to Jill Biden.

These days, Lakewood Democrat Brittany Pettersen, a state senator in her first term after serving three terms in the Colorado House of Representatives, is raising seven-month-old Davis, who was born at the start of the legislative session. But eight years ago, she was in the thick of her first run for office, for an open House seat considered among the most competitive in the state that year.

Recalling the county party dinner and a conversation she had with Biden, Pettersen said, “He was really serious. He took his commitment to his country and his service very seriously, what it means to serve in public office. But even though his speech was incredibly serious and everybody felt the weight of the election and what it meant, in person he was so warm.

“The chatter in the room was, ‘This is a future president.’ We felt so lucky to have him with us.”

Read more on ColoradoPolitics.com

Gov. Polis signs 4 health insurance bills in Silverthorne, including extension of reinsurance program

Gov. Polis signs 4 health insurance bills in Silverthorne, including extension of reinsurance program

By Libby Stanford (July 6, 2020)

SILVERTHORNE — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed four bills into law Monday, June 6, at the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center, expanding access to health care for Coloradans. 

The first bill he signed, Senate Bill 20-215 the Health Insurance Affordability Enterprise, is championed by Summit County leaders. 

Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, sponsored the bill, which extends the state’s reinsurance program for five years and expands coverage to those who were left out of the program. 

“When I decided to run for public office three years ago, the one issue that came up most often in any of the five counties that I traveled … the biggest issue was affordable health care,” McCluskie said in an interview. 

Colorado’s reinsurance program aims to drive down insurance costs by reimbursing insurers for the highest cost claims, according to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies. In its first year of operation, people across colorado saved about 20% on insurance premiums on the individual market. Summit County residents have saved even more — around 47%, according to Polis — because of the Peak Health Alliance, a nonprofit insurance purchasing organization. 

“The mission of Peak Health Alliance really is to make health insurance more affordable,” Peak Health Alliance CEO Tamara Pogue said in an interview. “Any strategy that does that, we support. … If there’s one thing we all know about health care, given how complicated it is, it’s going to take a lot of different strategies to really make it affordable for all of our residents.”

Pogue said the reinsurance program helps Peak Health Alliance do its job by providing a protection mechanism for insurance carriers. 

“When Peak started, everyone sort of thought we were crazy,” she said. “Typically when we talk about health care, we don’t talk about local solutions to health care. We’re really grateful to this administration that they’ve recognized that these local solutions can be part of solving the problem.”

Along with extending the state’s reinsurance program, the law aims to provide more access to insurance for low-income people who receive federal subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. In its first year of operation, the program caused those people to spend more on health insurance than they did before, McCluskie said.

“It was an unintended consequence,” she said. “So with (the law), we have set aside dollars to protect low-income Coloradans from having that happen again.”

The law also addresses families who fall into the “family glitch,” which applies to households that had one family member eligible for health care through their employer but the rest of the family wasn’t eligible or they were eligible at a greater cost. It also expands coverage to undocumented immigrants. Funding is now in place to help those families and individuals enroll in the individual marketplace, McCluskie said.

While the reinsurance program applies to a minority of people, it helps everyone, including those who receive insurance through their employer, said Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, who also sponsored the bill. 

“With this bill, we are stabilizing the entire insurance market,” he said at the event. “When we increase the number of people enrolling on the individual insurance market … we’re going to dramatically increase insurance enrollment … There will be a really positive effect on total enrollment, which is going to stabilize prices and reduce cost shifting into other markets.”

In addition to the reinsurance program, Polis signed three other bills. 

Read more on SummitDaily.com

Guest Commentary: Polis should sign bill to mandate insurance coverage of pain management care

Guest Commentary: Polis should sign bill to mandate insurance coverage of pain management care

By Chris Kennedy (July 2, 2020)

Colorado has been busy fighting the coronavirus pandemic so it’s easy to forget we’re also fighting an opioid epidemic. And since many people are currently experiencing feelings of isolation and anxiety over finances, opioid addiction is expected to get even worse.

The abuse and misuse of prescription drugs in Colorado is one of the state’s major public health crises. In 2019, Colorado experienced an unprecedented 1,062 drug overdose deaths, and fentanyl overdoses doubled between 2018 and 2019. And since the pandemic began, more Americans report feeling depressed and anxious as we’ve seen the use of anti-anxiety drugs increase 34%.

None of this bodes well for treating and preventing substance abuse.

Over the last few years, Colorado has made significant investments in treating and preventing opioid addiction, which claims the lives of more than 500 Coloradans a year.

However, amidst budget troubles, many of those life-saving programs have recently sustained big cuts — millions of dollars. There is less (or no funding) for vital services like a Medicaid program to cover in-patient and residential treatment for drugs and alcohol addiction; training doctors and nurses to screen their patients for substance abuse and refer them to treatment, and funding for sober living homes.

But a potential bright spot in this challenging time is House Bill 1085, which would make treatments like physical therapy, occupational therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture more affordable in an effort to stop opioid addiction. The proposal requires insurers to cover at least six alternative therapy visits at a cost-sharing amount not to exceed the regular amount charged for a primary care visit. HB 1085 passed the legislature on June 11. This means, if signed by Gov. Jared Polis, patients would no longer have to pay more to address underlying pain than they would to get an opioid prescription to mask the pain, potentially leading to an addiction issue.

And even better: This type of approach not only saves lives, but it also saves money.

That’s why, for example, UnitedHealthcare introduced a new benefit for people with acute low back pain that makes it more affordable to access physical therapy and chiropractic care. Based on a UnitedHealthcare analysis, by 2021, this benefit design has the potential to reduce the number of spinal imaging tests by 22%, spinal surgeries by 21%, opioid use by 19%, and lower the total cost of care for eligible plan participants and employers.

These findings align with peer-reviewed research published in the medical journal Spine that showed early physical therapy was associated with a decreased risk of: advanced imaging, additional physician visits, surgery, injections and opioid use. In fact, total medical costs for lower-back pain were $2,736 lower for patients receiving early physical therapy.

In addition, the bill requires better insurance coverage for safer, atypical opioids that often can’t be accessed by patients without jumping through hoops and paying more than they’d have to pay for traditional opioids. HB 1085 also continues the seven-day prescription limit and the mandate that doctors must check a patient’s record on the prescription drug monitoring program before prescribing a refill of opioids. In addition, among other things, the bill updates the curriculum for health care provider education programs.

House Bill 1085 is a result of a bipartisan committee of state senators and representatives who met to consider possible policies to fight the prescription drug misuse. It acknowledges that a frequent starting point for an opioid is musculoskeletal pain and that when a physician visit to obtain an opioid is cheaper than addressing the underlying pain, we have a significant problem.

That’s why I join with doctors, physical therapists, mental health professionals and consumer advocates to urge Gov. Jared Polis to sign this important legislation. Colorado’s prevention and treatment programs have taken major steps backward, and especially in light of recent budget cuts, Coloradans are counting on his signature to continue addressing and ending the opioid crisis.

Read more at DenverPost.com

More News

Colorado governor vetoes bill that sought to reduce prescription opioid abuse by Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun

Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Covered Alternative Therapies to Reduce Opioid Use by Andrew Kennedy, CPR News

LEGISLATURE 2020 | Session marked by what didn’t happen

LEGISLATURE 2020 | Session marked by what didn’t happen

By Joey Bunch and Marianne Goodland (June 19, 2020)

The 2020 legislative is marked as much by what didn’t pass as what did.

Some of the hottest items on the Democratic majority’s Christmas wish list had melted away by the time summer approached.

Coming into the session in January, for example, the public option insurance was supposed to be the biggest bill of the session. Going out, it was only a possibility for 2021, legislative leaders said, and they didn’t sound optimistic.

This session, roughly half, or about 300 bills, were scuttled to make room for pandemic relief, a rescue for the state’s budget and pet projects lawmakers were wed to, such as new restrictions on school immunization waivers that took up days.

The public option, though, was characterized as a game changer by Democrats just a few months ago.

The public-private insurance was supposed to pull down insurance premiums by offering a below-market rate built on price caps on hospitals and doctors, which proved not a politically palatable idea in the wake of a global pandemic. 

Sponsors withdrew the bill, which managed to pass one committee in March before the shutdown.  

Next year? 

“I think so,” said Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder told a group of reporters on the last day of the session. “This is something that we went into this session wanting to work on. We’ve never said a public option is the only solution. We’ve said we want to bring down the cost of health care.

“And for us, the public option was a vehicle for us to do that, and I think it’s still on the table, but we’re making sure we’re approaching the problem with an end goal, not with an obsession over a very specific policy.”

Senate President Leroy Garcia said “there are a lot of different options we might look to, and that’s one option.”

House Speaker KC Becker is done after this session because of term limits, leaving a deep legacy of legislative success. House Majority Leader Alec Garnett of Denver, in a farewell tribute to Becker last week, pointed out that three bills define her legacy: Senate Bill 19-181, on oil and gas regulatory reform; Senate Bill 18-200, which attempts to shore up the Public Employees’ Retirement Association; and the most significant bill affecting rural Colorado in many years, Senate Bill 17-267. 

“It’s been a wild ride, certainly an unexpected and unprecedented session,” she said.

Becker cited protests that spurred on major police reforms in the legislature in three weeks’ time, as lawmakers were simultaneously cutting or back-filling nearly a quarter of their operating budget.

More budget cuts and higher taxes and fees could be on tap if the deep recession continues. A revenue forecast from state economists is slated for Friday.

“We still accomplished the majority of our goals that we set out, and we had challenges we never expected,” Fenberg said. “We passed the parts of our agenda we thought were most critical and wanted to get across the finish line.”

He lamented the need to do more on education, which legislators say almost every year. But the 2020-21 budget takes the General Assembly, and K-12 education, backward almost a decade. The spending plan that takes effect July 1 adds $621.4 million to the budget stabilization factor, the debt to K-12 that started after the Great Recession. The debt is now $1.18 billion, and higher than it’s ever been.

“We knew that going into this crisis and we know that even more so now,” he said of underfunding schools, adding about the progressive agenda, “There’s more work to do, and that’s what begins tomorrow,” Fenberg said.

Among the other bills that failed to reach the finish line:

  • Conservation easements. For 17 years, landowners, primarily on the Eastern Plains, have complained that they have been defrauded of their lands and tax credits by the state Department of Revenue, which canceled millions of dollars in tax credits claimed by those landowners for donating portions of land for conservation purposes. A working group tasked by 2019 legislation spent last summer and fall coming up with reparations and plans for restructuring part of the program’s provisions on orphan easements and a new way to determine land valuations. The cost of $147 million would have been covered by tax credits from revenue, but that part of the bill ran into trouble even before the pandemic. Rep. Dylan Roberts of Avon told Colorado Politics a new bill had been in the works before the recess that would have covered only the orphan easements and valuation piece. That never happened.
  • An effort to expand the state’s laws allowing importation of prescription drugs from Canada died in the session’s final days.
  • Senate Bill 125, which would have banned exotic animals in events such as the circuses and the Colorado Renaissance Festival, was among dozens of scuttled bills after the session resumed.
  • Two bills on guns, one that would require guns be stored in a safe, and another that requires the reporting of a stolen firearm, both died after the General Assembly returned.
  • Republicans’ perpetual efforts to ban abortions and throw out 2013 laws on guns got the same result they’ve been getting for the past six years: postponed indefinitely by Democrats.
  • So did two bills on plastics, one that would ban the use of polystyrene (Styrofoam) containers, another that would ban single-use plastics such as straws and grocery bags. 
  • A bill banning the use of handheld cellphones while driving also went by the wayside.
  • So did a bill extending the statute of limitations on sex abuse, tied to clergy abuse within the Catholic Church
  • A bill to remove the ability of county commissioners to draw their own district maps, which ran into trouble with commissioners in Arapahoe County, also died.
  • Health insurance providers won’t have to pay for the annual cost of a mental health exam, a bill passionately defended by Rep. Dafna Michaelson-Jenet of Aurora, who sought public support to keep it off the list of bills destined for elimination.

Read more on ColoradoPolitics.com

Last-minute negotiations shake up reinsurance bill

Last-minute negotiations shake up reinsurance bill

By Marianne Goodland (June 13, 2020)

The bill to refinance the state’s reinsurance program and extend it for an additional four years won preliminary approval from the House Friday evening, after a marathon negotiation session between the sponsors and health insurance carriers.

Senate Bill 215 would cut the fees paid into the reinsurance program by hospitals and levy a new fee for health insurance carriers to make up the difference and then some.

Reinsurance is a type of insurance that pays for health insurance plans’ most costly claims. The General Assembly adopted a bill last year to set up the two-year program, which obtained federal approval. 

The program applies only to the individual market in Colorado, which is about 7% of those insured. 

Last year’s law resulted in lower health insurance premiums, as much as 30% in some parts of rural Colorado, and 20% less statewide.

Under last year’s law, hospitals were slated to pay a $40 million fee beginning July 1.

Under SB215, the hospitals’ fee was cut in half and the first payment isn’t due until Jan. 1, 2022.

The bill also addresses several glitches in the insurance market, according to co-sponsor Rep. Chris Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat. One is that employees who get their insurance from employers aren’t necessarily able to include families in the employers’ plans. SB215 would cover some of the costs for family premiums in the individual market. 

Another glitch has to do with the federal subsidy that helps cover some of the premiums. Those who were receiving the subsidy found that with lower premiums, their subsidies also dropped, sometimes more than the cost of the premius, leaving them with a higher net cost. 

Finally, the bill does something no insurance plan has ever done: cover undocumented residents, although they would not be eligible for the federal subsidy.

The bill sets up an enterprise, to be managed by the commissioner of insurance, which pays for the program with a fee levied on insurance plans. 

Bill sponsor Rep. CHris Kennedy explained Friday that the fee would replace a federal health insurance tax that was set up in 2010 to pay for the Affordable Care Act. The HIT is repealed as of Jan. 1, 2021. 

For nonprofit carriers, as introduced, SB215 levied a fee of 1% of premiums and 2% of premiums on for-profit carriers, who cried foul and claimed the higher fee would put them at a competitive disadvantage. 

That’s what led to the marathon negotiation session that took place Thursday and into Friday.

The House amended SB215 to hike the fee for the nonprofits to 1.15% and lowered the for-profit fee to 2.15%. 

Kennedy explained that the fee is now higher for the nonprofits than the federal HIT was. Those nonprofits are union shops Kaiser and Elevate, a carrier operated by Denver Health. 

Health insurance carriers, however, have pointed out that the fee, which would bring in $95 million in the initial years and up to $110 million in out years, will generate far more revenue than the program requires. That’s led to a claim that the fee would instead be a tax and violate the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. 

Kennedy and co-sponsor Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat, point to the “business services” in the bill that would be provided to the health carriers as justification for the higher fee. 

They also amended the bill to limit the authority of the commissioner of insurance, responding to concerns that the commissioner could put in place a public option program on his own. 

SB 215 will require a final vote on Saturday and then go back to the Senate for concurrence on the amendments. 

Read more at ColoradoPolitics.com