5 Things Colorado: Rep. Mary Young, Public option, A fourth wave
Thanks very much for reading our stuff, and for supporting our work at State of Reform. This newsletter is free because of the engagement of sponsors and attendees at our annual policy conference. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this year we can convene in person. But, if we can’t, our virtual conference platform has really been refined over this last year.
So, save the date for October 28th for this year’s event! That feels like three lifetimes from now. But, we’ll be getting our Convening Panel back together after the session to kick off our planning.
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With help from Emily Boerger
1. Public option has first committee hearings
After delaying its first committee hearing several times, Colorado legislators kicked off the discussion on this year’s revised Colorado public option bill on Friday. The lengthy hearing, which State of Reform Reporter Eli Kirshbaum covered in detail here, took place after the Colorado Hospital Association, the Colorado Medial Society, and the Colorado Association of Health Plans released a joint statement in opposition to the bill.
During the meeting, bill sponsor Rep. Dylan Roberts highlighted some of the “concessions” made to the revamped public option bill including its new phased-in approach. Despite these concessions, the committee heard plenty of testimony in opposition to the bill with some referring to the bill as “backwards,” “outdated,” and “draconian.” Lawmakers were scheduled to take up the bill again yesterday for further discussion, but the planned four hour meeting only lasted 25 minutes. The bill didn’t come up.
2. Rep. Young discusses BH legislation
Representative Mary Young is drawing on her experience as a former school psychologist to craft policy aimed at improving Colorado’s mental health support system. She is sponsoring several mental health-related bills this session, including legislation to establish a Colorado Behavioral Health Administration.
In this conversation, Rep. Young dives into the details of the proposed administration, which she describes as “the next step on a path to significantly improving behavioral health care in Colorado by creating a system that has no wrong doors.” Young also touches on other BH-related legislation she is sponsoring this year like HB 1166 related to behavioral health crisis response training.
3. A plan to advance health equity
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee recently voted to advance SB 181, a bill that aims to create a comprehensive approach to advance health equity in Colorado. The bill would build on the state’s current Health Disparities Grant Program and would require the Office of Health Equity to assemble a multi-department workgroup to create a strategic equity plan.
During the committee meeting, bill sponsor Sen. Rhonda Fields stressed the importance of collaboration in advancing equity, stating: “If you just work in a silo, we’re not going to get to the issues that we need to address some of the disparities that we’re seeing across our state.” The Colorado Health Institute has released multiple health equity reports in recent weeks highlighting vaccine access discrepancies and disparities in school-based health care. The institute says the school data underscores “an urgent and profound need to address the systems that produce and perpetuate racial health disparities in Colorado.”
4. Colorado leaders call for federal support
Last week we hosted a session titled “State Case Study: Colorado Case” at the 2021 State of Reform Federal Health Policy Conference. I got positive emails and texts about it from folks ranging from Maryland to California. Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway and HCPF Executive Director Kim Bimestefer called on the federal government to pave the way for some of Colorado’s health policy initiatives. Conway says he hopes the federal government will change its rules related to 1332 waivers to add more flexibility in its deficit neutrality requirements. This, he says, would be beneficial for the state public option.
Bimestefer says she would like to see the Biden Administration take steps related to drug affordability such as allowing biologics to be imported into the US and changing patent protection rules. Conway praised the aid provided through the American Rescue Plan Act, but said he hopes the federal government makes permanent certain portions of the bill like the additional premium assistance.
5. Entering a fourth wave
Colorado saw 2,717 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday – the highest number of new cases recorded in a single day since January. In a press conference on Friday, Gov. Polis warned of a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases in the state and announced that now more than half of all positive cases in Colorado are from COVID variants.
Despite the increase in cases and hospitalizations, state officials say the new wave will be less severe due to the growing number of Coloradans getting vaccinated. Thirty-eight percent of state residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine with 23% fully vaccinated. A recent survey indicates twice as many Coloradans intend to get a COVID vaccine compared to last year.