The Colorado legislative session that wrapped up this month was a busy one for Colorado-specific health care reform. Despite a few bumps in the road, SB200 passed, which means that Colorado is now on its way to creating a health insurance exchange that will address the particular needs of individuals and small businesses in the state. Although this bill was controversial simply because the whole idea of exchanges is too closely tied with the PPACA for everyone to be on board with it, there was widespread support for the bill, including the Metro Chamber of Commerce. In addition, I think that part of the reason that SB200 passed was because it didn’t try to be too far-reaching or do too much, too soon. It simply sets up a board of directors for the exchange, and creates a legislative review committee that will convene by the first of August in order to start “guiding implementation of an exchange in Colorado, making recommendations to the General Assembly, and ensuring that the interests of Coloradans are protected and furthered.” SB200 does not mandate any specific aspects of how the exchange will work – it leaves that to the board and committee and the legislative body to figure out over the next two years.
In contrast, two health care related bills – SB168 and HB1273 – that were defeated during this session were quite far-reaching, although they were basically polar opposites in terms of what they were trying to do. SB168 would have created a nonprofit healthcare cooperative that would have acted as the benefits administrator and payer for health care services in the state. Although I can see how such a program could have been beneficial to a lot of people in the state, it may have seemed too much like single-payer health insurance. And that probably made it a bit too extreme in the current political climate that overshadows every health care reform discussion.
HB1273 was at the other end of the political spectrum from SB168. It would have allowed Colorado to opt out of federal health care reform laws, and would also have allowed the state to receive federal Medicaid money in the form of block grants without having to comply with federal guidelines for the use of Medicaid funds. Although this bill likely appealed to conservatives as much as SB168 appealed to liberals, it was also probably a bit too divisive and extreme, and did not pass.
SB19, which allows employers to reimburse employees for health insurance premiums, passed and was signed by the Governor at the end of March. Although Colorado had long disallowed this practice on the grounds that it would encourage employers to avoid guaranteed issue (and more expensive) group health insurance in favor of reimbursing employees for individual policies, the time had come for this bill. The number of employers offering group health insurance had been steadily declining over the years, and perhaps SB19 will encourage some employers – who otherwise might not have provided anything at all in terms of health insurance – to help their employees pay for health insurance.
HB1025, which would have repealed the Health Care Affordability Act, was postponed indefinitely by the House Committee on Health and Environment. So for now, the Health Care Affordability Act will continue to generate funds to help pay for health insurance for low income families in Colorado, via Medicaid, CICP, and CHP+. If HB1025 had passed, all of those programs would have suffered a financial blow, which would have no doubt meant that those safety net programs would have been unable to serve as many people as they do now.
This legislative session in Colorado was a busy and divisive one, and health care was a frequently-raised topic. I’m sure it will continue to be that way over the next couple of years as we move closer to the full implementation of the PPACA on a federal level.