DENVER – Gov. Jared Polis unveiled a “road map” Thursday for reducing health care costs in Colorado, highlighting at least 10 bills to address hospital charges, a state-backed insurance plan, a reinsurance pool and prescription drug prices, among others.
The plan, which relies heavily on bills still working their way through the Legislature, is guaranteed to reduce health insurance and prescription drug costs for Southwest Colorado, Polis said.
“Our reinsurance plan – bipartisan – will save 25 to 30 percent for residents of La Plata County on the cost of insurance every year,” Polis said. “It’s a huge win.”
But battles over gun control and oil and gas regulation have dominated the 2019 legislative session, and with a month left, lawmakers are running out of time and money to deliver key parts of Polis’ plan to address health care costs, one of the governor’s signature campaign promises.
Instead, partisan infighting, budget constraints and a full agenda may mean that some of Polis’ priorities will have to wait another year, said Allie Morgan, director of legislative services for the Colorado Health Institute, a non-partisan policy group that tracks health care legislation.
“I could see some of them (bills) being reduced or tabled for next year,” Morgan said.
Instead, partisan fights and controversial bills have claimed much of lawmakers’ time this session. As Democrats have introduced a flurry of progressive legislation, Republicans have protested by ordering daylong readings of lengthy bills to halt proceedings on the House and Senate floors. In committees, hundreds of Coloradans flocked to the Capitol to give hours of testimony on sexual education, oil and gas reform and gun rights. Rural and conservative Coloradans have threatened the governor and a handful of lawmakers with recall; at least one group has successfully organized a petition effort to repeal a new law.
Nevertheless, Polis is counting on a handful of bills and initiatives to pass this session that make up the base of his short-term fixes for Colorado’s health care crisis, according to his road map.
The governor already signed one bill to increase transparency on hospital bills. He targeted a reinsurance bill – which has yet to leave the House – that mandates certain reductions in premium price by region, but applies to only individual plans. Another bill, one to import cheaper drugs from Canada, has yet to be heard in committee and would require a federal waiver. Finally, the Polis administration is closely watching a Summit County experiment in creating a collaborative, nonprofit health insurance, a potential model for the state.
In a Thursday morning conference call with The Durango Herald, Polis highlighted some of the unique problems facing Southwest Colorado – higher-than-average insurance premiums, high suicide rates and few mental health services. Next week, he plans to announce an overhaul of the state behavioral health system to address some of those concerns.
But some of this session’s most anticipated health care bills – some of which have been in the works for months – have just been introduced and must make it through multiple committee hearings and debates in both chambers before they can hit the governor’s desk. Those include a bill that would add mental health coverage under Medicaid; a plan to police prescription drug costs and reduce them; and a bill that would track substance abuse-treatment programs. All were introduced last week.
By law, all bills introduced in the Colorado Legislature must receive a hearing, and lawmakers will likely spend hours in marathon meetings that stretch late into the night to get to all of them. Once they do, the biggest obstacles standing in Polis’ way is money.
“Even though the economy is doing really well, there’s not enough to pay for everything,” Morgan said.