With Colorado’s 2023 legislative session beginning last month, Reporter Boram Kim has been monitoring the first health bills being taken up by lawmakers, some of which are described below.
In our first Colorado newsletter of 2023, we also feature a conversation with Rep. Matt Soper about what he hopes is accomplished this session, information about the Behavioral Health Administration’s newly released Strategic Plan, and key healthcare-related takeaways from Gov. Jared Polis’s State of The State address.
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State of Reform
1. Health bills we’re watching
Committee meetings on health legislation are still getting underway, but we’ve covered some of the initial bills that have been taken up. The House passed HB 1030, which aims to eliminate the fees that healthcare staffing agencies impose on providers when they hire contracted workers, through a 52-12 vote last week. According to testimony, these “ransom” fees drive up overall healthcare costs, hinder workforce recruitment efforts, and make it challenging for providers to move between positions.
The Senate health committee recently approved SB 41, which would allow pharmacists to prescribe off-label medications for certain uses. The lone opposing vote came from Sen. Jaquez Lewis, a pharmacist herself, who was concerned that allowing off-label prescriptions could lead to dangerous medications being given to patients. Bill sponsor Sen. Smallwood clarified that the bill still has safeguards against unwarranted use of such medications, saying “By no means is this creating any sort of encouragement that off-label drugs should be prescribed.”
2. Rep. Soper discusses health policy for 2023
Rep. Matt Soper spoke with State of Reform in January, saying he hopes this session is “calmer” than recent years, which saw robust debates over initiatives like the Colorado Option and the Prescription Drug Affordability Board. The Republican lawmaker believes the legislature needs to focus on improving healthcare affordability this session. “The full force of those bills, of course, won’t be known for a couple of years yet,” he said. “But that’s why it’s so important that the legislature not take drastic steps in the healthcare arena this year.”
With the minority party’s House representation decreasing by five members this year, Soper noted that bipartisanship will be more important than ever. He also recently visited Scotland and Taiwan to learn about their healthcare policy and hopes to emulate some of their approaches in Colorado. This includes creating a proton beam for cancer treatment in Colorado, increasing automation in the state’s healthcare delivery process (automatic patient check-ins, for example), and partnering with academia to advance the bioscience industry.
3. What They’re Watching: Melinda Estep, Health Management Associates
Melinda Estep, Managing Director of Delivery Systems at Health Management Associates, says she’s primarily focused on ways to promote and improve value-based care in Colorado. When we caught up with her at the 2022 Colorado State of Reform Conference in November, she said she’s particularly interested in how to reinvest the savings from value-based care into “core services” like workforce and supply chain support.
Estep is focused on helping providers determine how to best allocate these savings in a way that serves to ultimately grow their business. When reevaluating payment models, she says, it’s critical to have up-front payment like seed capital in order to invest in new resources. “To me, it’s all about that reimbursement model, and there needs to be a little bit of payment up front so we can help create some margin for that reinvestment.”
4. BHA releases Strategic Plan
The Behavioral Health Administration released its 2023-2025 Strategic Plan last week, outlining an in-depth roadmap for the state to establish a multi-agency behavioral health support system grounded in the administration’s six pillars of behavioral health reform: access, affordability, workforce and support, accountability, lived experience and local guidance, and whole-person care. In recent testimony, BHA Commissioner Morgan Medlock said eight of the 13 agency contracts needed for this collaborative statewide support network have been signed.
The BHA’s priorities include working with criminal justice agencies on crisis response. In support of this goal, HCPF is launching its mobile crisis team benefit for Medicaid in July of 2023. Also in July, the BHA will begin licensing Behavioral Health Entities throughout the state, which will be community-based behavioral health providers who provide comprehensive mental health and SUD treatment. Behavioral Health Administrative Services Organizations will facilitate BHE operations and ensure quality standards are met.
5. Polis focuses on healthcare cost reduction, homelessness in State of the State
In his State of the State address last month, Gov. Polis emphasized the impact of recently implemented healthcare programs, noting that over 34,000 individuals have enrolled in Colorado Option plans since they became available last fall. He also praised Colorado’s reinsurance program, which is expected to save Coloradans $294 million on premiums in 2023.
The governor called on insurers and hospitals to increase their efforts to lower costs for patients, referencing health plans’ high administrative costs and hospitals’ record-high profit margins. He also said housing is one of his main focus areas, and urged lawmakers to remove zoning restrictions and construction authorizations that limit access to affordable housing. “Housing policy is climate policy, housing policy is economic policy, housing policy is transportation policy, housing policy is water policy, housing policy is public health and equity policy,” Polis said