Colorado Democrats lay out their 2022 session priorities

Colorado’s state Democrats laid out their future health policy work at the 2021 Colorado State of Reform Health Policy Conference last week. The panelists said next session priorities will include behavioral health expansions, supporting the health care workforce, and improving affordability in all silos. 

 

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The presenters of the session included Rep. Shannon Bird, chair of the House Finance Committee, Rep. Susan Lontine, chair of the House Health and Insurance Committee, Rep. Emily Sirota, vice-chair of the Public and Behavioral Health and Human Services Committee, and Rep. Naquetta Ricks, member of the House Public and Behavioral Health and Human Services Committee. 

The legislators first discussed the importance of behavioral health and mental health legislation in the next session. Sirota said she expects a number of bills to come out of the Behavioral Health Transformational Task Force.

Sirota said this task force has $400 million of federal stimulus funds that could be allocated to behavioral health bills in the next session. She said the task force is generating plans to spend these funds to help transform how mental and behavioral health is provided in Colorado.

“These dollars are geared to be transformational. They are one-time dollars, so there are any number of places where we could put these dollars.”

Some of the biggest priorities in mental and behavioral health include assisting the mental health of youth and promoting wellness, which has become an increasingly growing problem in the state, said Sirota. 

In May 2021, Children’s Hospital Colorado declared a “state of emergency” for the youth mental health crisis in the state — the first time in its 117-year history. The hospital said they had been overrun with kids attempting suicide and suffering from other forms of mental health issues. 

The hospital also said they have seen a 90% increase in demand for behavioral health treatment in the past two years. 

The panelists also highlighted supporting the health care workforce in the next legislative session. Lontine said the legislature will be addressing the threats, intimidation, and violence experienced by many health care workers in the state. 

She noted that many health care workers have been the target of violence in primary care and hospital settings from both patients and family members. She invited stakeholders to talk about these important issues to help resolve them. 

“If we don’t talk about them, we are never going to figure these out.”

Lontine also highlighted the health care workforce shortage and identified the reasons as continued retirement, the challenges of the job, and other systematic reasons that affected the workforce before the pandemic. Other issues around the workforce that the legislature will address are the lack of qualified instructors and lack of incentive for health care workers to provide care in rural areas. 

Bird said the legislature needs to work on making health care more affordable for all Coloradans including providers, plans, and patients. However, there will always be tradeoffs when reducing costs, she said. If legislation is passed to improve affordability for one group, another group in the system will take on the costs saved by the first group.

She said the legislature needs to move forward in creating affordability and quality care, without completely changing systems that already are working. 

“We want to move the ball forward in terms of making things affordable, maintaining quality, and definitely not harming things that we currently like about our health care system.”