Democrats in Colorado introduce bills to rein in health care costs

A negative pressure room inside St. Joseph Hospital, March 10, 2020.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A negative pressure room inside St. Joseph Hospital, March 10, 2020.

Colorado Democrats introduced new bills at the capitol Thursday, which they say are aimed at reducing health costs. 

The proposals would reduce premiums, increase hospital profit transparency, and lower prescription drug costs. 

“The fact that there's a lot of enthusiasm in the legislature for taking on different costs and fees is great,” Gov. Jared Polis previously told CPR News in an interview. “Our bottom line is will it reduce costs for Coloradans?”

Democrats’ efforts covered several areas of Colorado’s health care system.

  • HB23-1224 aims to lower insurance premiums and make it easier for consumers to shop for high-value plans. The bill is an update to the Colorado Option, the state’s new government-backed insurance plan that passed last year. This bill would allow the state insurance regulator to hold carriers accountable for cost reduction requirements standardized Colorado Option plans. That includes allowing regulators to limit factors like “excessive profit” and administrative expenses.
  • HB23-1225 seeks to increase the effectiveness of the Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB) to lower out-of-pocket prescription drug costs.
  • HB23-1226 would enhance current hospital financial transparency reporting to address gaps and increase hospital compliance with state rules, with the hope of highlighting what is driving up hospital costs It would also provide data on Colorado hospitals’ financial health and performance.
  • HB23-1227 also takes aim at prescription drug costs. The legislature has passed reforms to make sure pharmacy benefit managers save consumers money. The new bill will provide the state’s Division of Insurance with more direct oversight over PBMs. It also requires them to register with the state.

A spokesman for Colorado House Republicans told CPR News they hadn't yet had a chance to read through the bills.

The state’s hospitals indicated they’re already in compliance with a transparency law that was passed in 2019.

A spokesperson for the Colorado Hospital Association said the group and its members “have a long-standing history of support for transparency. The Association has been working productively with the sponsor to ensure this bill isn't duplicative and will result in useful information.”  

Democrats say they are looking to put pressure on various elements of the powerful healthcare industry that they see as a key obstacle to affordability. And they see the legislation as part of a concerted multi-year push.

“We're not sitting on our hands,” said Democratic state Sen. Kyle Mullica of Thornton, the legislature’s only registered nurse. “We're still trying to improve the system.”

The bill aimed at insurance premiums “strengthens the Colorado Option by holding insurance companies accountable,” said state Rep. Kyle Brown, D-Louisville. “It helps lower premiums by limiting profiteering and excessive administrative expenses.” 

“A lot of how the healthcare system operates is still operating as if this is actually a competitive market and it's not,” state Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy, D-Lakewood said in an interview. He cited mergers, consolidations, and hospitals and insurance companies buying physician groups as examples. “This market is increasingly concentrated around a smaller number of actors who've really been able to leverage their market power.”

Claudia Curry Hill spoke in support of the bill. She said she stopped taking some medication for multiple sclerosis because copays for them went up dramatically after she and her husband switched to Medicare.

“The simple truth was we couldn't afford it,” she said. “We had already downsized our home to get ready for retirement.

“Every day, Coloradans are forced to choose between paying for necessities like food and heat and rent, or paying for lifesaving care. That's unacceptable,” said Democratic state Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a pharmacist from Longmont and a co-sponsor of the bill to help reduce costs through the prescription drug affordability board.