Let’s face it—it’s been a rough few years of budget shortfalls and cuts, which has made for some unpleasant conversations at the state Capitol. Going into January 2012, the health care forecast for this legislative session looked like deeper cuts with a good chance of ongoing unpleasantness, and I was ready to hunker down for the storm. To my surprise, the doom and gloom gave way to cautious optimism and conversations aimed at finding middle ground. Granted, the last 48 hours were not reflective of this session’s bipartisan tone, but overall, through compromise and shared goals, some amazing things began to grow this spring.
The medically underserved often face challenges in seeking affordable health care services, especially when it comes to paying hospital bills without health insurance. Just signed by the Governor on Monday, SB 134 (PDF) requires hospitals to reduce their rates for low-income, uninsured patients to match the discounted rates insurance companies pay. It will also increase transparency of the billing and payment process for uninsured patients, so they know their options up front.
We at CCMU believe that some of the most innovative work being done in health care systems change is being done at the local level, and HB 1017 (PDF), which was signed into law in April, is helping encourage that. CCMU supported this initiative when it first began several years ago, so we were pleased to see Health Access Pueblo able to continue providing access to basic health services with a fund collectively sponsored by community members.
We have also been supportive of the Accountable Care Collaborative, which establishes a new approach in providing care with more focus on primary care and coordination of care across needs for our low-income children and families on Medicaid. In order to continue facilitating that shift in the right direction, HB 1281 (PDF) has passed, and is due to be signed into law in the coming weeks. This bill allows for pilot programs to test new ways for Medicaid providers to be paid.
Ensuring sufficient access to health care for those in need is another issue we wrangle with regularly, especially since we lack complete data about Colorado’s existing health care workforce. Fortunately, HB 1052 (PDF) will create a publicly available database of health care providers and the settings in which they deliver care across the state.
Of additional interest this session were bills to improve oral health access. We believe overall physical health is inextricably linked to mental health and oral health, and so we were pleased that oral health entered into the conversation prominently this year with the hard work on HB 1326 (PDF) and SB 108 (PDF). Thanks to HB 1326, low-income seniors are now able to receive oral health services. Although SB 108 got caught up in the activity of the last 48 hours and wasn’t able to come to a vote, it did appear to have significant support and we hope it will pass next year. The bill would have provided dental benefits to pregnant women receiving Medicaid, in order to break the trend of untreated dental disease in the mother during pregnancy and its correlation with oral disease in children.
Despite the dark clouds hanging over us at the start of this year’s session, I am proud of and grateful for the important advances we’ve made this year in improving Colorado’s health care system. As long as we can focus on the big picture of a health care system that works for all Coloradans, we can continue to move forward, together.