Terrell Blei, Policy and Outreach Fellow
This year’s legislative session was a whirlwind 120 days for health care advocates. We at the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative (CCHI), stayed busy advocating for, and alongside, consumers by supporting bills that advanced our mission for equitable access to high-quality and affordable health care. This year’s 721 bills rivaled the modern-day record of 738 in 2003, and we took positions on 55 that we felt would impact care and coverage in the state. Legislators were working up to the very last minute, with over 200 bills that still needed action in the last week alone.
Even with a chaotic to the finish, and significant interest in health care policy issues this year, health care largely missed out this session. Of the many bills that stood to help health care consumers, only a few were passed into law, while many more were swiftly killed. Some of health care’s hot topics included increasing transparency and addressing skyrocketing health care costs. However, competing stakeholder interests from powerful health industry groups often brought policy options to a standstill.
The big ‘health wins’ coming out of this year’s session achieved overwhelming bipartisan support and were years in the making. These efforts included addressing the proliferation, and exorbitant costs, of freestanding emergency departments (FSEDs), an issue CCHI has been working to address for past several years. Now, thanks to the passage of SB18-146, FSEDs will be required to provide consumer disclosures on cost in non emergent care situations. We hope these disclosures give Coloradans the information they need to access the appropriate care at the appropriate cost. Additionally, HB18-1282 will require each FSEDs in Colorado to obtain a unique identification number so that policymakers can track how FSED claims compare to hospital based ER claims, and better understand cost drivers.
Another big win for health care consumers was the passage of five out of the six bills brought forth by last summer’s Opioid and Substance Use Disorder Interim Committee. Coloradans will see increased support and coverage for substance use treatments as well as changes to how opioids are prescribed by providers.
Our final major win, was the defeat of SB18-214, which would have stripped coverage from children and families through administrative red tape and unnecessary work requirements in the Medicaid program. Consumers and advocates from across the state gathered to express united opposition against legislation that threatened Colorado’s Medicaid program. The bill was defeated with bipartisan opposition in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, with more than 30 consumers testifying against the bill.
Legislation that met less favorable outcomes, and that were halted by party line opposition, included a handful of efforts that would have increased transparency in the health care sector. HB18-1260, for example, would have required justification for significant price increases for generic prescription drugs. HB18-1368 and HB18-1207 also called for increased transparency, most significantly from hospitals. All three efforts encountered significant opposition and failed.
We were especially disheartened that legislators in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted against SB18-237, a bill that would have required notice to consumers regarding their protections against the practice of balance billing. In Colorado state statute, consumers with state regulated plans should be held harmless when they are unfairly balance-billed by an out-of-network provider. However, the problem remains that consumers are unaware of their rights and are often paying large bills that they legally do not owe. CCHI worked closely on SB18-237 in an attempt to remove the consumer from the middle of a provider-payer billing dispute, but the solution was rejected.
Additional efforts were brought forth, that if passed, would have helped to stabilize Colorado’s insurance marketplace and provide relief to the consumers hit hardest by increasing premium costs. One important effort this year was HB18-1384, which would have required Colorado to consider the costs, benefits, and feasibility of implementing a Medicaid buy-in option, a public-private partnership option, and a community based-option to help lower insurance costs. Although gaining bipartisan support from rural legislators, this effort failed in the Senate. Likewise HB18-1205, which would have brought financial relief to consumers in rural Colorado, who have seen the greatest premium increases, was also defeated.
With a long list of bills that could have been, and a a few new laws that will surely benefit Colorado consumers, we can prepare for many of these issues being back on the table next year. The conversation will continue as health care costs continue to rise, and legislators hear more and more from their constituents that something must be done.
If you or someone you know has experienced issues with your coverage, let us know! We need consumers like you to share their stories so that we can work with policy makers to make change happen. Tell us your story here.