It is amazing how time flies by when Colorado’s General Assembly is in session! Since the legislature only meets six months out of the year they pack a lot of work into a short time. And Colorado Consumer Health Initiative (CCHI) staff has been busy keeping track!
The Hospital Payment Assistance Program (SB12-134)
For CCHI, the priority bill this 2012 session is the Hospital Payment Assistance Program (SB12-134).
Our research has shown there is little consistency in Colorado hospitals’ charity care policies and limited access to information about payment assistance options for uninsured consumers. CCHI and Colorado Center on Law and Policy (CCLP) met with Senator Irene Aguilar before session about our concerns with hospital billing. Out of the meeting came a bill draft – which has evolved into Hospital Payment Assistance Program (SB12-134). After many meetings hosted by Senator Aguilar, the Colorado Hospital Association (CHA) and many consumer health advocacy groups support SB134. The bill is expected to pass in Colorado Senate early next week and introduced in the House. For more information on this bill please see our fact sheet and visit the General Assembly for its status.
Defending Health Care Access
At the beginning of the session we had to focus a lot of effort on defending the health care safety-net in Colorado. There were several bills introduced that would defund or restructure Colorado’s Medicaid program, as well as a bill to repeal Colorado’s Health Benefits Exchange. (HR12-1003 Federal Convention to Repeal Federal Health Law, SB12-032 Medicaid Reform Seek Federal Waiver, SB12-085 Reducing General Fund Expenditures, SB12-053 Colorado Health Benefit Exchange Repeal). CCHI sent letters and testified in opposition to mant of these bills. All of them have since been postponed indefinitely, meaning dead for this session.
Positions on Other Bills
There are other proposals CCHI supports, as well as some the organization opposes. Generally CCHI supports legislation that seeks to increase health care access, would improve the quality of health care, or would provide more information about health services to consumers. Here are other bills this legislative session we have taken a position on:
- Support – Healthcare Workforce Data Collection Bill (HB12-1052): This bill would allow the state to gather more information from health care providers as part of their licensure with the state. This information can help the state in dealing with provider shortages in rural and needy communities. This bill passed the House and is now awaiting a hearing in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
- Support – Notice of Hospital Services Not Provided for Religious Grounds (SB12-093): This bill would require hospitals run by religious institutions to inform patients about services they refuse to provide based on the organization’s religious views. The bill passed the Senate but was sent to the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee where it is unlikely to pass.
- Support – Civil Unions in Colorado (SB12-002): CCHI supports this bill because legalizing civil unions would result in increased access to health coverage for more Coloradans. This bill is currently awaiting a hearing in Senate appropriations.
- Oppose – Respect For Rights Of Conscience Act of 2011 Senate Memorial (SM12-003): CCHI is actively opposing this legislation. This proposal is seeking to have the Colorado Senate ask the U.S. Congress and President to defend religious liberties when implementing federal law. The goal is similar to the federal “Blunt Amendment” because it seeks to allow employers and insurers to right to refuse coverage of any health care services based on their religious views. Proposals like the Blunt Amendment would have far-reaching consequences. It could result in many Americans losing access to vital health services they need, like reproductive health services, treatment for HIV/AIDs, even refusal to pay for some types of treatment for cancer.
Homestretch: The Budget Race
And the largest task for the General Assembly is yet to come… The budget! We expect to see a long bill (the budget bill) drop in late March.
One major issue of contention will be whether to implement the Senior Homestead Exemption. Over the last four years the Colorado General Assembly has suspended this tax exemption for seniors. The cost for the state to implement it is high – estimated between $77 and $94 million per year. Advocates for low-income seniors, including CCHI, argue this exemption provides seniors with financial means tax breaks at the expense of lower-income Coloradans, including seniors. To implement the exemption the General Assembly would have to cut or level fund other vital programs that serve seniors, like Medicaid. Implementing the exemption would strain Colorado’s already stressed budget and could hurt Colorado’s neediest.
One final point about the budget we keep hearing is the false claim that our state leaders and voters must choose between funding our health care safety-net and our schools. We believe Colorado can do better than this. Colorado is a leader in caring for its own – we take care of our seniors and provide opportunities for our children, even in tough times. That’s what Coloradans do.
Half way through the session – a lot going on and a lot left to do! It’s a race to that mid-May finish!
To find out more about these bills go to: www.leg.state.co.us