5 Things Colorado: Q&A w/Sen. Rhonda Fields, Bennet & Hickenlooper, SUD coverage

If you understand the unique character of our republican democracy, you can find calm in this anxious time. In six days, Joe Biden will be inaugurated President of the United States. He may not have been your candidate. That disappointment is a luxury of being in a democracy.

The orderly transfer of power from one administration to another is something unique to the last few hundred years among almost the entire swath of human history. It transpires again next Wednesday, only the 45th time since the enactment of our Constitution in 1789. I would encourage you to watch and appreciate the moment at 12:00 pm EST on January 20th. Doing so is a reminder of how unique our American experiment in self-government is. And, how fragile.





With help from Senior Reporter Emily Boerger

1. Q&A: Sen. Rhonda Fields

Sen. Rhonda Fields Chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and has served in the Colorado Legislature for ten years. In this Q&A, the Assistant Majority Leader shares her thoughts on healthy equity, access, and the importance of working upstream to set children up with a healthy start.

She also offers a rundown of her two biggest priorities for the 2021 legislative session: legislation to establish a children and youth act to help kids who have fallen behind due to remote learning, and a bill requiring Colorado to create a state health equity plan. “We can’t wait for another epidemic for us to be exposed to the same data and the science that we already have. We need to have a pathway moving forward to address health care disparities in every corner of the state of Colorado,” says Fields.

2. HCPF releases new Rx report

On Monday, the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing released a new report detailing strategies to reduce prescription drug costs in Colorado. According to the report, drug prices have increased nationally by 33% since 2014, compared to an average 17% increase for other medical services. In Colorado, less than 2% of drugs prescribed are driving nearly 50% of total Medicaid prescription drug expenditures.

The report outlines a series of recommendations to address these high costs including the creation of an Affordability Board, giving providers tools to see the costs of drugs, expediting generic approvals, and utilizing value-based contracts. HCPF Executive Director Kim Bimestefer says the agency will send an invitation this month to Canadian suppliers to help import drugs at Canadian prices.


3. Hickenlooper & Bennet talk drug costs

US Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet provided a federal perspective on lowering prescription drug costs during a Tuesday panel at the Colorado Health Cabinet Health Policy Summit, hosted by HCPF. Bennet says reducing drug prices is a bipartisan issue and he believes there is a better opportunity under the Biden administration to make progress.

Bennet specifically referenced HR 3, which would empower HHS to negotiate the prices of up to 250 drugs and would also cap out of pocket costs for seniors. Hickenlooper says reforming patent laws are key to addressing the issue, and was critical of pharmaceutical companies’ spending on direct to consumer advertising. A rundown of the conversation is available here.


4. SUD coverage a “game changer”

HCPF recently announced the extension of Medicaid coverage for in-patient and residential substance use disorder services. In a conversation with State of Reform, Sen. Brittany Pettersen, who sponsored the 2018 legislation which extended the coverage, describes this extended benefit as a “game changer.”

Pettersen says she was driven to bring forward the legislation because her mother, who struggled with addiction, could not access needed care and was met with extremely high costs when she sought treatment. Pettersen says she is working to establish a behavioral health care committee in the Senate and is hoping to use her newly-appointed position as Chair of the Committee on Finance to ensure critical funding for behavioral health support in the state.

5. CHA discusses 2021 priorities

Reporter Eli Kirshbaum recently caught up with Joshua Ewing, Vice President of Legislative Affairs at the Colorado Hospital Association, for a conversation on the future of a public option, an update on the vaccine rollout, and a discussion on the potential impact of the new Biden administration. Throughout the conversation, Ewing describes how addressing COVID has overshadowed other health policy and reform work.

“COVID is a once-in-a-generation event that’s going to have lasting consequences and impacts to our health care system…I think the reality is that it’s really hard to talk about systemic changes when we are still very much in the throws of fighting this virus.” Ewing says stemming the spread of the virus will impact CHA’s involvement in the legislative session, but that working on affordability will remain a top priority for the association.