by Caitlin Westerson, Policy Manager

Just two short weeks ago, the 2017 legislative session wrapped up, leaving the team here at CCHI feeling a bit frustrated. While there were some fantastic wins for the health care community, like increased funding for behavioral health services, many of the bills we were hoping to see passed met their demise in the Senate. This year seemed especially brutal for a slew of health care bills that would have increased transparency, consumer protections, and affordability for consumers in Colorado. CCHI supported many common sense measures in hopes of improving access to health care, but unfortunately many efforts leave us still seeking solutions for next year.

Heading into the 2017 legislative session, CCHI had identified three policy areas on which to focus our attention. That’s not to say that we didn’t work on legislation outside of those issue areas—we definitely did that too, 51 to be exact—but we prioritized (1) prescription drug costs, (2) surprise medical bills, and (3) freestanding emergency departments (FSEDs). Below is a recap of our efforts to make advances in these issue areas, as well as some other takeaways that we think are important to note.

For in-depth information on the actions we took this session, the bills we followed, and how your legislators voted see our 2017 Legislative Scorecard—trust us, it’s worth a look.

1. Industry interests are powerful. While the CCHI team and our member organizations were dedicated to advancing policy in our three issue areas (see above), we quickly ran into the challenges of a having split chambers and opposition from powerful industry interests with competing values. The conversation around out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs ran into quick opposition, but we had more luck with surprise medical bills and FSEDs.

CCHI was very engaged in discussions with lawmakers relating to both SB17-206 (surprise medical bills) and SB17-064 (FSEDs). However, despite our best efforts to put forward policy solutions in both areas, including policy analysis and research showing how important these issues are to consumers, both bills died in the Senate. We believe, though, that our involvement both built better relationships and heightened our understanding of the issues, and will prepare us for success during the next legislative session—third time’s the charm, right?

2. Birth control matters. For the second year running, CCHI testified in support of legislation that allows women to get up to a 12-month supply of birth control at the pharmacy, and that birth control is covered by said woman’s insurance plan. The passage of this bill (HB17-1186) was a big win for women. Big because it helps those in rural areas of the state, where pharmacies are few and far between. Big because it helps those that work until midnight, or at 5:00am, or any other time of day that makes pharmacy trips inconvenient. And big because it received considerable bi-partisan support and made it out of the Senate “kill” committee. It’s efforts like these that go to show that hard work does pay off, and common ground does exist.

3. (Sometimes) politics trump policy. This year, CCHI, along with many other health care advocates, saw again how, sometimes, politics trump policy. This isn’t exactly a new concept for us, but this session particularly exemplified it.

Case and point: Five separate bills were introduced this year in an attempt to increase affordability and choice in the individual market, with support from the Lt. Governor’s office. And all five bills died.  These bills were not particularly radical ideas, some focusing on a widely supported idea that shedding more light on health care costs and increasing price transparency helps policy makers make good policy. Despite CCHI’s best efforts to promote their importance, specifically pointing out the affordability issues faced by rural Coloradans, partisan politics got in the way. All five bills started in the House and made it as far as the Senate “kill” committee, only to meet their fate with little discussion and no promises to revisit the issue next year. At CCHI, we will continue to fight for good policy that helps make health coverage more affordable for Coloradans. 

4. Compromise does happen.  Arguably the most significant health care measure of this session was SB17-267, the third, and final, attempt to turn the hospital provider fee program into an enterprise fund. While we were happy to see steps taken to free up critical funding streams in the short term and preserve access to rural hospitals, the bill does lock Colorado into a new spending cap that will continue to cause budget shortfalls in the years to come. Despite much turbulence on its road to success, the bill ultimately passed both chambers proving that compromise really does happen.

While this legislative session wrapped up with some significant disappointments for health care consumers, there were several important lessons learned. CCHI will continue to seek common ground with other stakeholders and enhance policy discussions with the consumer perspective. Compromise can happen, and we look forward to seeing policy change in the 2018 legislative session that works for all Coloradans.

For more information on any of the above mentioned bills, or the budget deals brokered this session, please visit our legislative scorecard—we know it’s long, but let’s be real, you just read a blog on legislation so you’re probably wonky enough to want to read the whole thing, and we love you for that. 

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