5 Things Colorado: “Chronic COVID,” New public option bill, Drug importation

Want to hear something a little crazy? We are now covering state health policy in 15 states, providing more independent coverage of state and market-level health reform than any outlet in the country, so far as we can tell.

So, if you’d like to see a run down of all of our reporting from across the country, you can subscribe to our daily newsletter. You’ll get a morning run down of all of our coverage from across each of our states, and now federal policy too. This morning’s newsletter had 11 stories for your daily read-in. It’s a unique level of coverage that will help you get up to speed quickly on what’s happening in health reform across the country.





With help from Senior Reporter Emily Boerger

1. Expect changes to public option bill

Following the sidelining of last year’s public option bill due to the pandemic, Rep. Dylan Roberts and Sen. Kerry Donovan announced their intent to introduce a new public option bill this year with significant changes due to COVID. In this Q&A, Roberts discusses changes to this year’s bill, the impact of COVID, and how a Biden administration might support these efforts. As an aside, Roberts will be speaking on the topic with figures from other states and the Biden administration at our 2021 State of Reform Federal Health Policy Conference on April 7-8th.

One of the key changes from last year’s proposal is that instead of relying on government rate setting, the new version would allow the market to set rates. In a conversation with State of Reform, Katherine Mulready, Chief Strategy Officer at the Colorado Hospital Association, said the updated bill is a “step in the right direction” but that it’s too soon to tell if there is a clear path forward for the public option.


2. Implications of “chronic COVID”

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Chris Murray, Executive Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations (IHME), where I learned something I didn’t know. Based on newly released data from the Novavax COVID vaccine trial, being previously sick with COVID-19 appears to offer no protection from being infected with the new South African strain of the virus.

Without cross-variant immunity, Murray says this data indicates we may be moving to a “world of chronic COVID” where every winter we treat COVID as we do the flu. I outline three immediate things that may change for us in this column. Perhaps the most important is this: hospitals and their current financing models are in trouble. Video of my full conversation with Murray is available here.

3. Drug importation with Canada moves forward

The Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF) sent an Invitation to Negotiate to Canadian providers, taking an important step in its effort to initiate a program to import lower cost prescription drugs from Canada. Bids from interested providers are due on April 26, after which HCPF will work to create contracts to then submit to the federal government.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) are opposed to Colorado’s efforts, having filed suit against the federal government in November for granting the state permission to begin the program. HCPF Director Kim Bimestefer says they will not be deterred by PhRMA’s litigation and will continue to pursue the program.


4. Panel: Health policy in the 2021 legislature

The 2021 Colorado legislature has again put health policy front and center in this year’s session. So, on Wednesday, February 24, at 5:00 pm, we will host a “Leadership Series” conversation on health policy priorities during session, lessons learned about legislating during a pandemic, and where health policy is likely headed in the weeks ahead. We’ve invited Sen. Jim Smallwood, Chair of the Senate Minority Caucus, and Sen. Rhonda Fields, Chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, to participate.

We’ve also invited Katelin Lucariello, Director of State Policy at PhRMA, and Amanda Massey, Executive Director of the Colorado Association of Health Plans, to join the conversation. This event is free to attend, but you have to register to join us. You’ll be able to pose questions and participate in the conversation as well, just as you do in our conferences. So, we’d love to have you with us.

5. CO one of the safest places to live during COVID

Colorado was recently ranked one of the safest places to live during COVID due to its high vaccination rates and low death rates. Colorado has so far administered 72% of its allotted vaccine doses, putting it 16th in the nation for percent of doses in arms. The state also moved into its 1B-2 Phase on Monday, opening up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to those 65 and older.

As a result of these combined successes, Colorado asked its residents for input on changes to its re-opening guidelines, which allow for more flexibility. Gov. Polis, however, recently warned against complacency. The Center for Health Progress told our reporter Eli Kirshbaum that Colorado could be doing more to be equitable in its vaccine distribution plan.