Democratic and Republican legislators discuss future health policy plans for Colorado

At State of Reform’s Colorado Health Policy Conference Colorado Democrats and Republicans discussed their parties’ plans for future health care policy. The “Policy Leadership: Republicans” panel featured Rep. Soper and Rep. Bolton. Sen. Brittany Pettersen was the speaker for the “Policy Leadership: Democrats” panel.



Policy Leadership: Democrats

According to Pettersen, Vice Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, future policy priorities for Colorado Democrats include:

  • Recovery from budget cuts: Pettersen expressed her disapproval of Polis’ state budget plan. She says the proposed budget lacks necessary funding for things like behavioral health care. She expressed concern that the impacts of underfunding key areas are only worsened by the ongoing health crisis.

“Last year, $26 million was gutted from the projects that we worked on. We were able to preserve some of that by moving forward with implementing the Medicaid coverage for in-patient and residential treatment, but unfortunately many pieces that were supposed to be implemented were gutted,” Petterson explained.

  • Behavioral health: Pettersen referred to the increase in overdose deaths in Colorado and cited fentanyl abuse as an example. She linked this to behavioral health issues overall, and to the need for additional funding to support Colorodans struggling with mental health during the pandemic.
  • Expanding health insurance coverage: The Senator discussed the negative consequences of a possible repeal of the  Affordable Care Act , and affirmed her intent to expand coverage to Colorodans in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.She added that the unexpected events of the pandemic significantly impacted this process.

Pettersen stated that Democrats are “trying to re-envision some of the health care to address our health care system and some of the barriers that people face in access and care as well as the cost,” she stated while explaining the health care expansion effort. She added: “We are still in crisis management mode.”

  • Addressing disparities: Pettersen repeatedly acknowledged that COVID is impacting certain communities more than others. Colorado needs to factor this in to its health care policy, Pettersen said.

Throughout her discussion, Pettersen was persistent about the need for input from health care professionals and other stakeholders of health policy so that she and other legislators can work effectively on their behalf.

When asked about the details of the upcoming special legislative session, Pettersen stated that Governor Polis’ plan for the state’s COVID recovery — that includes providing relief to small businesses and ensuring broadband access for rural communities — would be focal points.

“We’re going to be debating what we should do for our own state recovery response and where we should invest dollars so that our economy recovers quicker and we’re able to address the significant needs of people across the state,” Pettersen said.

Policy Leadership: Republicans

Rep. Soper, member of the Health and Insurance Committee, and Rep. Holtorf, Member of the Public Health Care and Human Services Committee, spoke about their views on the current health policy environment and what they believe needs to be prioritized in the next session. Here are some central topics of their discussion:

  • Telehealth: Soper highlighted the recent expansion of telehealth and the steps  legislators need to take in order to expand access  for more Coloradans.

“There’s going to have to be a change under federal law to allow for telephone communications to fall under HIPPA,” Soper said. “So right now the only reason why a provider can talk to a patient using a telephone call is only because of the executive orders and the state of emergency that we’re currently in. So we in Colorado are going to be asking our congressional delegation to seek a change in federal law.”

  • Decreasing government involvement: Holtorf expressed his belief that “government manipulation” in health care systems need to stop. He said providers should be allowed to make their own health care decisions instead of receiving “mandates from high.” 
  • Preventing HCPF changes: Soper said he is concerned about HCPF’s possible change to rates for telehealth services. In response to a question about this change, he highlighted the impact this would have on important telehealth funding and mentioned SB 212. This bill provides reimbursement to health care providers for telehealth services.

“I certainly am planning on fighting any change coming from HCPF,” Soper said. “I just feel like, at least from the chatter I’ve heard in the background, that basically they would undo SB 212. It would take us back to a state in time where telehealth really doesn’t get utilized, and I think as long as we’re in a pandemic situation, to differentiate rates is crazy to do at this time.”

  • Fixing the rural-urban divide: The panelists were asked about the differences between urban and rural health care and how urban hospitals are benefiting from policy decisions more than rural hospitals. Both representatives agreed that a “one-size-fits-all” approach for hospital cost management will not work.

“Rural hospitals don’t have the economies of scale, they don’t have the throughput, they don’t have the population of patients that the urban hospitals do,” stated Rep. Holtorf said. There’s a lot of differences.” 

Holtorf went on to explain the need for different approaches to health care policy for communities in different settings.

“You have to understand the differences in the rural setting versus the urban setting,” he said. “And there are differences in the population settings of certain rural areas. One glove doesn’t fit the rural hand either. There’s a myriad of sizes that need analyzing and it’s really important that you don’t get miopic and sit there and try to put all the eggs in one basket. And I see that problem all the time at the state level and it really frustrates me, so that way of thinking has to stop.”