The 2020 Colorado Legislative Session abruptly adjourned due to COVID-19 back in March and reconvened in late May in the shadow of an economic downturn and a historic budget shortfall. After three rapid-fire weeks, the legislature adjourned the session today, June 15.
Even in this difficult environment, CMS made incredible gains for physicians and our patients, building on the innovations you deployed to keep your doors open and provide high quality accessible care. We have championed legislation regarding telehealth, reinsurance, opioids and immunizations, and strengthening physician/patient relationships through a process to ensure loved ones can safely visit patients in hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Look for a detailed report in the July issue of Colorado Medicine.
The 2020 legislative session saw the following wins on behalf of physicians, organized medicine and the issues of importance to all of us:
Immunizations: Governor Polis is expected to sign SB20-163 School Entry Immunizations, which requires standardized forms and education in order to claim a nonmedical exemption. The bill also set an immunization rate goal for every school to have a 95 percent vaccinated student population.
Telehealth: In order to maintain telehealth expansions that were made during the COVID-19 response, the legislature passed SB20-212 prohibiting private insurance carriers from putting restrictions on the use of telehealth and requiring Medicaid to cover telehealth more broadly. Upon the governor’s signature, this will be an important win that will increase telehealth coverage, access and reimbursement for all HIPAA-compliant technologies.
Coverage: While the state public option bill died after never being taken back up after the COVID adjournment, another massive bill did pass to expand coverage. The Health Insurance Affordability Enterprise (SB20-215) imposes a new fee on hospitals for two years and a fee on the health insurance premiums that will be used to pay for the state’s reinsurance program, along with other subsidies to lower health insurance premiums on the individual market. As a result, more patients will have coverage and physicians can expect less uncompensated care.
Scope of practice: The practice acts for the Nursing Board, Naturopaths, Board of Chiropractic Examiners and NPATCH were all continued this session, with CMS working closely with stakeholders to ensure no scope expansions will endanger the public while also effectively meeting the needs of patients in the current health care environment.
Opioids: To continue to combat the opioid crisis, the legislature passed five opioid-related bills addressing prevention, treatment, recovery, harm reduction, and the criminal justice system. Of particular note is HB20-1085's requirement that private insurance carriers provide increased coverage for atypical opioids and non-opioids without barriers like step therapy or prior authorization, as well as increased coverage for alternatives to opioids like physical therapy, occupational therapy, chiropractic visits and acupuncture visits.
Hospital visitation: The pandemic’s impact on the ability of loved ones to visit patients in hospitals was the subject of emotional discussion on a late bill. While offered with the best of intentions, HB20-1425 didn’t fully address some existing regulations regarding hospital visitation policies and the need for patient-centered, clinical decision-making autonomy. The bill was amended into a declaration calling for hospitals to revisit their policies to ensure that loved ones can safely visit patients as the pandemic continues.
Tobacco tax: HB20-1427 will put a measure on the November ballot asking voters to increase the tax on cigarettes, tobacco products and nicotine products (including vaping) starting next year. Revenues from the tax will be used to backfill some of the state budget shortfall, support tobacco education programs, and fund affordable housing and preschool programs.
There were a number of bills, proposals and ideas that simply were unable to make it through the truncated legislative session. In fact, we know that several key ideas are already being considered for the 2021 legislative session. And as always, some bills that passed may or may not be signed by the governor to become law.
It may seem like that is a long way away, but in reality, voters will be sending a message in just a few short weeks about how they feel the legislature has handled response to COVID-19. As mail-in ballots are already in Colorado mailboxes, we now turn our attention to the very important work of the COMPAC. This group has been vetting candidates in every House and Senate primary race in the state. In partnership with our local component medical societies, we are asking the tough questions of the candidates in order to determine who understands and will fight for our important issues.
To see the list of COMPAC endorsed candidates, click here.
The great work that has been done on behalf of our members and their patients is thanks in large part to the relationships we build during these campaigns. If you have not already contributed to COMPAC, there is still time and your support is critical. In addition, we strongly encourage you to contribute to the Small Donor Committee that is exclusively used to support candidates who have committed to protect Colorado’s stable liability climate and enact comprehensive liability reform.
Together with your support, we can continue to ensure that whatever the “new normal” will be, we will have physician-friendly supporters in the Colorado Legislature who understand our priorities and their impact on the health of all Coloradans.