This month’s newsletter includes a conversation with one of Colorado’s leading health policy voices, Lt. Gov. Primavera, about behavioral health, reducing health care costs, and taking a multi-siloed approach to health policy making.
We also feature an update on key health legislation moving through the legislature, recent action regarding Colorado’s Hospital Transfer Center, and HCPF Executive Director Kim Bimestefer’s remarks at our federal conference last month.
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State of Reform
1. Q&A: Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera
Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera has been instrumental in Colorado’s nationally recognized health care reforms through her creation of the Office of Saving People Money on Health Care and the Office of eHealth Innovation. She shared her insights in a recent Q&A with State of Reform: “We’re at a pivotal moment for health care reform, not just in Colorado, but around the country. The governor and I are always hoping to be a leader for the rest of the country in our health care policy and this legislative session is really no different.”
Looking to the future, Primavera has high hopes for a medical financial partnership program the state will soon pursue, which delegates financial experts to help patients navigate the complexities of health insurance. Another central priority for her this year is supporting the health care workforce through increased wages for the direct care workforce and creating a health care corps in partnership with AmeriCorps.
2. Behavioral health, Rx policy in legislature
The state held a ceremonial introduction of HB 1278, the long-awaited bill to operationalize the Behavioral Health Administration, last week. Prime sponsor Sen. Pete Lee said the BHA “will ensure accountability and set health standards for behavioral health in Colorado.” We’re also watching HB 1122, sponsored by Rep. Perry Will, which would protect 340B-covered pharmacies from “discriminatory” PBM practices.
Legislators are advancing bipartisan spending bills using the state’s nearly $1 billion in ARPA funds, including legislation to allocate $90 million to create local community-based mental health programs and $54 million to expand intensive residential and outpatient BH services for Colorado youth and families. We also recently heard from CDPHE about their legislative priorities this session, viewable here.
3. Hospitals are optimistic as COVID cases wane
Colorado’s Combined Hospital Transfer Center was deactivated on Tuesday after being moved to its lowest “activation tier” in late February due to waning COVID numbers. “This is a really good sign for Colorado,” said CHA’s Julie Lonborg. The center facilitated patient transfers between Colorado hospitals to better accommodate hospital capacity at the height of the pandemic and during the recent wildfires.
Lonborg said these changes indicate the pandemic is “in the rearview mirror” for Colorado hospitals. She noted, however, that hospital and ICU utilization remain higher than normal because many patients who deferred their care previously during the pandemic are now coming in to be treated.
4. Analysis of Medicare Advantage enrollment
Medicare Advantage enrollment has undergone “remarkable” growth in recent years, largely due to recent drops in fee-for-service Medicare enrollment in favor or MA’s cost incentives for patients. State of Reform columnist Jim Capretta drew from recent reports and data in a recent analysis about MA’s increasing market penetration and how the program has grown over the last several decades.
Capretta emphasized how robust the MA market has become—beneficiaries can currently choose between an average of 39 different plans, compared to 11 plans in 2011. He offered this counsel for future MA policy making: “The next step should be to improve the payment system so that the competition among MA plans, and between MA and FFS, is fair and delivers savings to taxpayers as well as the program’s beneficiaries.”
5. Kim Bimestefer speaks at federal conference
At last month’s 2022 State of Reform Federal Health Policy Conference, HCPF Executive Director Kim Bimestefer praised Governor Jared Polis’ winding down of pandemic mitigations and for “listening to science” throughout the public health emergency. She said we are over the hump of COVID and that people need to get out and get healthy.
Bimestefer also said the state is focused on increasing affordability through the Office of Saving People Money on Health Care and increasing behavioral health coverage in the state through the creation of a centralized Behavioral Health Administration. “We are serving 1 in 4 Coloradans, the biggest health plan in the state by far, and we have to be a better leader in affordability for ourselves in Medicaid paid for by taxpayers, but also to drive affordability in policy for the rest of Colorado,” she said. See Bimestefer’s full remarks here.