Legislative Roundup: Senators Crack the Whip on Connect for Health Colorado

Legislative frustration with Connect for Health Colorado, the state’s insurance marketplace, boiled over this week in a debate on the Senate floor.

The Senate passed two bills to increase oversight of the exchange, Senate Bills 19 and 52. Senate Bill 19 calls for a performance audit, while Senate Bill 52 requires legislative approval of bonuses for employees of the marketplace. Just last year, neither bill would have stood a chance in the Democratic-controlled legislature.

The audit bill passed unanimously, 35-0. Six Democrats joined all Republican senators in voting 24-11 for the bonus bill. Both bills now go to the House.

Notably, it was not the Senate’s conservative Republicans who had the loudest criticism for Connect for Health Colorado in this week’s floor session, but two of the Senate’s most moderate Republicans, Ellen Roberts of Durango and Larry Crowder of Alamosa. Roberts read e-mails from constituents detailing numerous problems when they tried to use Connect for Health Colorado to sign up for insurance, as required by the Affordable Care Act.

A few Democrats counseled against requiring legislative approval of bonuses, something the legislature does not require for any other state-chartered enterprise. Yet the unanimous vote for the audit, the votes of six Democrats in favor of the bonus bill, and the stinging criticism from Roberts and Crowder, serve as a reminder of how politically problematic legislators consider Connect for Health Colorado to be.

However, the legislature is far from ready to scrap the marketplace. Rep. Janak Joshi (R) has tried several times to repeal it. His latest attempt, House Bill 1066, failed Thursday in the House Health, Insurance, & Environment Committee along party lines. Democrats on the committee were forceful in their defense of the benefits of Connect for Health Colorado, although all admitted that it needs improvements. An array of groups, from AARP to the Colorado Hospital Association, showed up to testify in favor of keeping the marketplace. While Joshi was successful in convincing all six of the committee’s Republicans to vote in favor of his bill, all seven Democrats stood firm in their opposition.

In other legislative action on health policy this week:

Anti-overdose drugs: The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 53, which allows first responders as well as friends and family of people with substance abuse disorders to be prescribed naloxone, an emergency treatment for opioid overdoses.

Interchangeable drugs: Senate Bill 71 allows a pharmacist to substitute drugs equivalent to medication prescribed by a doctor. The motion passed the Senate Health & Human Services Committee and now goes to the full Senate.

Bike trails: Senate Bill 81 would have devoted lottery money to building more bicycle trails, supporting a goal voiced by Gov. John Hickenlooper in his State of the State address. It failed in the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday amid concerns that it would conflict with funding authority allowed by the state constitution.

Out-of-state EMS providers: House Bill 1015 allows the governor to enter into compacts with other states to allow their emergency medical services providers to work in this state. It passed the House Committee on Public Health Care & Human Services and now goes to the House Appropriations Committee.

Mental health for minors: House Bill 1032 expands the type of professionals who may provide mental health care for minors. It passed the House Committee on Public Health Care & Human Services and now goes to the full House.

Prescription give-back: House Bill 1039 passed the House 63-0. It allows nursing homes and other institutions to donate unused prescription medications to non-profits for use by other patients. It now goes to the Senate.

Denver Health and Hospital Authority Board: House Bill 1059 expands the board from nine members to 11 and changes the procedures for removing a member from the board. It passed the House Health, Insurance, & Environment on Thursday and is on its way to the House floor.

New bills introduced this week:

Prescription choice: Senate Bill 123 would allow customers to choose any pharmacy in their health insurance network to fill their prescriptions. It is assigned to the Senate Health & Human Services Committee.

Advance directives: Senate Bill 125 would establish a statewide registry of advance directives, which include information such as a declaration of desired medical treatment and medical power of attorney. It is assigned to the Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee.

Abortion clinics: House Bill 1128 requires physicians at an abortion clinic to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. It is assigned to the House committees on Health, Insurance, & Environment and Appropriations.

Physician-assisted dying: House Bill 1135 would allow adult Colorado residents with a terminal illness to request drugs to end their lives. It is assigned to the House Public Health Care & Human Services Committee.

Tax credit for home health care: House Bill 1143 would allow some seniors to get a tax benefit for home health care equipment and services. It is assigned to the House committees on Health, Insurance, & Environment, Finance and Appropriations.

Provider rates: House Bill 1151 sets a floor for the rate the state pays Medicaid providers. It is sponsored by the Joint Budget Committee and is assigned to the House committees on Health, Insurance, & Environment and Appropriations.

Long-acting reversible contraception: House Bill 1194 proposes to allocate $5M in state funding to continue a family planning program. The program, which provides contraceptives including IUDs to low-income women, was previously grant funded. Expect a robust debate over this bill, which has been assigned to the House Public Health Care & Human Services Committee.

And finally, the Colorado Health Report Card is released next Thursday, February 5, at 11:30 a.m. in the Old Supreme Court Chamber. Stop by for the first look at how Colorado is faring in its drive to be the healthiest state in the union.

Joe is Manager of Public Policy Outreach at CHI.