DENVER – Gov. Jared Polis and state lawmakers have pushed an ambitious health care agenda in the past four months, but with less than two weeks left of the legislative session, lawmakers may run out of time and money to pass key bills on insurance and mental health.
Polis’ road map for health care reform, released earlier this month, will be widely successful, thanks to the passage of several of its key measures to address insurance and health care costs. For Southwest Colorado, there are some major wins, including a bill requiring greater transparency in hospital bills, a proposal to create a state-funded insurance option and efforts to expand the health care workforce.
But controversial bills, partisan squabbles and general disorganization this session have left a few significant bills on the table, meaning that efforts to provide more mental health funding, substance programs and yet another insurance alternative face poor odds, said Allie Morgan, director of legislative services for the Denver-based Colorado Health Institute.
“Polis has planted a lot of potentially big seeds of ideas,” Morgan said. “But you can’t end prescription drug price gouging or end provider shortage in 100 days.”
Tackling a variety of health care concerns in Colorado has long been part of Polis’ central mission, along with addressing climate change and funding full-day kindergarten. In his first session as governor, he has thrown his support behind some ambitious plans for a state-backed insurance option and a reinsurance program, both of which stand to benefit Southwest Colorado, where insurance options are fewer and pricier and where there are higher numbers of people who buy private insurance.
But even with these successes, the governor and lawmakers are still racing to consider more major and complex legislation. Lawmakers will work Saturday, and Capitol insiders are wondering if a special session will be called to address outstanding bills. Meanwhile, Polis and his allies in the Legislature introduced a hefty proposal Wednesday to raise taxes on tobacco products. Finally, lawmakers want to find a way to fund mental health and substance abuse programs and save a key piece of the governor’s road map, the reinsurance program, from ruin.
Health care bills that linger include:
House Bill 1269, which mandates that Medicaid offer mental health coverage, has passed the House but awaits final debate on the Senate floor. The bill would have a large impact on Colorado, where a quarter of the population is on Medicaid, but lawmakers are running out of time to debate it.A trio of three bills addressing substance abuse and opioid addiction treatment, Senate Bill 227, SB 228 and HB 1287, were recently introduced and have yet to be considered by both chambers. The bills are complex and expensive – collectively, they would cost more than $11 million. HB 1168, which would create a reinsurance pool, is a signature part of Polis’ health care road map, but has faced major objections from hospitals as it would change their reimbursement rates. Now, lawmakers face concerns that the bill would violate federal law. The bill passed out of a Senate committee on Thursday, but will still require resolution on the bill’s conflicts with state regulations. Reinsurance would particularly help Coloradans who shop on the individual insurance market, most of whom live on the Western Slope.It will be a loss for Polis if these bills fail. While legislators have addressed the state’s opioid epidemic, this session could rank as the least successful session in years when it comes to addressing opioids, Morgan said. Failing to substantially address opioids might be seen as yet another slight for rural Colorado, where residents and officials have protested lawmakers’ Front Range focus.
In coming days, Democratic lawmakers will have to pick their top priority bills, weather long floor debates and work to deliver Polis’ campaign promises.