Coloradans have shown themselves to be solidly progressive on numerous fronts, nowhere more so than on the issue of abortion and reproductive rights. Last year, a ballot measure that would have banned abortion after 22 weeks was soundly defeated by voters, leaving that sensitive decision up to a woman and her physician.
Yet a woman’s right to make her own decisions about pregnancy is in peril, primarily from the U.S. Supreme Court. Reproductive rights advocates assume that with the conservative majority now on the court, the landmark case that made abortion legal, Roe v. Wade, may be overturned when the right challenge comes forward.
The conservative court could also chip away at the Affordable Care Act, which would impact many Coloradans’ health care options.
In the meantime, Colorado reproductive health advocates including Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains continue to push forward to remove impediments and improve access to health care.
At least two bills will be introduced in the 2021 Colorado Assembly (which reconvenes Feb. 16) that would make it easier for women and men to get preventive and lifesaving health care.
The Preventive Care Coverage bill would permanently protect free preventive tests now covered under the Affordable Care Act in Colorado. So, for example, patients can receive screening for diabetes, high blood pressure, cervical cancer, tuberculosis and more without co-pays, deductibles or cost-sharing.
It also expands coverage of testing for sexually transmitted infections, the rate of which has broken records in Colorado in recent years, and provides gender equity in coverage (currently women are covered for some testing, but men are usually not).
Sexually transmitted infections can cause lifelong health impacts, among the worst of which is congenital syphilis. STIs can also increase susceptibility to HIV infection.
Currently, patients who are tested for STIs due to symptoms may end up receiving “surprise” bills; the Preventive Care Coverage bill would remedy that situation.
The bill also allows patients to see essentially any licensed health care provider for these services.
Perhaps two-thirds of Coloradans would benefit from this expanded access. (The policies of some people covered by ERISA insurance would be exempt.)
The second bill, Sexual Violence Survivor Access, will affect fewer people overall but will improve access for some of the most vulnerable patients.
Under current law, Medicaid will pay for abortion only in circumstances of rape, incest or when the life of the pregnant woman is endangered. A Colorado statute restricts the kinds of places where such services can be accessed, generally to hospitals; only hospitals in the Denver metro area currently do so.
This means that a woman who has been sexually assaulted, is pregnant and happens to be on Medicaid faces the added burden of traveling to Denver for abortion access. For a poor rural woman, that might mean a six- or seven-hour drive, plus the cost of gas, lodging and food.
Women who have private insurance or are able to pay out-of-pocket for abortions are not restricted in the type of facility they use; current Colorado law exclusively impacts sexual violence survivors on Medicaid.
The Sexual Violence Survivor Access bill will allow abortion to be provided through other kinds of appropriate health care facilities, including telemedicine prescriptions for abortion pills. In any case, abortion can only be provided by licensed health care providers, wherever they are located.
Together, these two bills improve Coloradans’ access to essential health care prevention and treatment and in particular help those who have been the victims of sexual violence.
We support the passage of these and other bills that will improve the overall health of Colorado families and make access to health care easy and equitable, now and in the future.