Colorado HCPF working to address member needs with behavioral health, access to care initiatives


Shane Ersland


The Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF) has implemented several new initiatives to help its members over the past several years, including significant investments in behavioral health. 

HCPF representatives discussed recent updates at the 2023 Colorado State of Reform Health Policy Conference last month. HCPF Medicaid Director Adela Flores-Brennan said the department currently covers 1.6 million people under Health First Colorado (Medicaid) and Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+). 

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“That’s one in four Coloradans, including 43 percent of the children in Colorado,” Flores-Brennan said. “We have accomplished a lot. We’ve expanded our provider network. We’re trying to support the workforce. Some of the things you’ve seen us do over the last year or two are to eliminate member copayments from all services in Medicaid, and ensure member access. We’ve increased our across-the-board provider reimbursement rates. We’ve also been able to remove the cap for adult dental (services).”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, HCPF added 500,000 members, and staff are currently working on its annual member renewal process, as states are required to redetermine Medicaid eligibility following the end of the public health emergency

HCPF Medicaid Operations Office Director Ralph Choate said many Coloradans have been able to renew their coverage automatically.

“A third of Coloradans being renewed don’t have to do anything. The procedural denials we’re seeing have fallen by four percent. These are the folks we need to help coach and support. Some of the outreach efforts all of us are trying to do are getting people in. The best news is non-procedural denials are down (by) around 10 percent. And these numbers keep getting better.” 

— Choate

Cristen Bates, director of the Office of Medicaid and CHP+ at HCPF, said she has been working in community mental health for 24 years, and has been at HCPF for seven years. 

“When we invest in behavioral health services and access to care, when people need it, it improves the lives of everyone,” Bates said. “It keeps people in their communities, in their jobs, out of the hospital, (and) it keeps people healthier.”

HCPF has doubled its investments in behavioral health over the last five years, Bates said. 

“We started spending, when I started, about $630 million a year, and we are up to $1.2 billion annually,” Bates said. “[Colorado lawmakers] passed dozens of bills that have given us funding or (helped) us direct people to care. And there are no copays for behavioral health services.”

A project that is rapidly gaining popularity in Colorado is the HCPF/Department of Local Affairs joint venture to expand supportive housing in the state, Bates said. The Statewide Supportive Housing Expansion Pilot Project aims to identify and expand wraparound services to address the safe housing social determinant of health for about 500 Health First Colorado members. 

“This is designed for people who are getting into an apartment, and they’re permanently housed there. This is not a shelter. We have low-barrier housing here. You don’t have to be sober (for) six months in order to walk in. You don’t have to be completely well. It’s like, let’s get you housed and then we’ll get you well. What happens, though, is people are falling back into their old habits. So we provide them pre-tenancy and tenancy support services. Which means we help them get off the street and into housing. And then we give them wraparound services.”

— Bates

HCPF is also working to address maternal health challenges, Flores-Brennan said.

“We’re covering over 40 percent of the births in the state,” she said. “So it’s really important that we’re investing in maternal and child health. We have done some major initiatives, like extending postpartum coverage to 12 months. We’re supporting maternal health through lactation support services (and) depression screens for parents and caregivers.”