To cap off Wednesday’s 2021 Colorado State of Reform Health Policy Conference, our Host DJ Wilson moderated a “four-corner” conversation with some of the Colorado Legislature’s most prominent health policymakers.
Sen. Rhonda Fields (D – Aurora), chair of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, Sen. Jim Smallwood (R – Castle Rock), chair of the Senate Minority Caucus, Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet (D – Aurora), chair of the House Public & Behavioral Health & Human Services Committee, and Rep. Matt Soper (R – Delta), vice-chair of the House Committee on Legal Services, spoke with DJ about this session’s successes and failures, inter-party cooperation, and what they’re focused on during the interim.
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Fields said Colorado needs an “integrated approach” to diversifying its health care workforce and advocated for a statewide effort to increase diversity in all professions.
“It’s hard to become something that you don’t see. So if you don’t see a black teacher, it’s hard to want to be a black teacher. If you don’t see a black doctor, it might be hard to become a [black] doctor. So we want to make sure we are advancing diversity and equity in every single skill … We need to be addressing the workforce pipeline on every single level. That’s why I’m advocating for an integrated approach tp make sure that we don’t have a shortage of skills as we move into next year and the year beyond that.”
Smallwood told DJ that health care policymaking in Colorado has been “by and large” bipartisan, citing price transparency and substance use disorder legislation as examples. More recently, he added, some of the topics the legislature has considered have been more partisan, including drug importation and the Colorado Option.
“There was a lot of work that we did where both parties got together to do a lot of really good stuff … As of late, I would say, there are just some ideas that are probably a little bit more partisan one way or the other … So we’re looking forward to working together next year on — ideally — ideas that … both parties can get together and support.”
To address the health care workforce shortage, Michaelson Jenet said the state needs to examine how to re-hire health care staff that left the field during the pandemic instead of bringing in staff from other states.
“We’re not going to be able to draw in our workforce from outside of our state, and I don’t think that we should … We have a robust population in Colorado, in rural and urban parts of our state, where we can reach directly into our communities and work with people to level up their earning potential.”
Soper, saying the health care system needs greater price transparency, likened trying to identify the cost of medical procedures to pulling teeth. He said health care market should resemble a supermarket, where there’s a fixed price for every item.
“I can tell you, from sitting on a hospital board, that there’s a price that it costs us to deliver a service, and I would like to engage in regular business. But then I also know that 75 percent of our patients are either Medicare or Medicaid … [Medicaid] is a very powerful player who’s already set a price that they will pay, and some of those prices are actually below the costs that it costs us to deliver the service … so we charge commercial care more. So that’s why commercial care [cost] is going up.”