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Daunting year ahead for health care policy

Audience at Anschutz Medical Campus hears preview of legislative session

1/4/2012


AURORA, Colo. - Efforts to streamline services and contain costs will be a theme of health care policy in the upcoming legislative session.

That was one of the messages delivered by Allison Summerton, a research analyst with the Colorado Health Institute, as she gave a Colorado Legislature preview at the Anschutz Medical Campus today. More than 100 people attended the noon-hour session.

As the state continues to come out of recession, and revenues remain low, Summerton said it's unlikely that lawmakers will introduce many health-related programs or spending increases.

State general fund revenues are projected to be $30 million below pre-recession levels for 2012-13, she said. Meanwhile, Medicaid enrollment has increased.

"We have a greater number of people applying for Medicaid and a greater number of students applying for Colorado schools," Summerton said. "So we've had a greater demand for services at a time when we have fewer resources, so that causes some stresses in itself."

With 40 percent of general fund appropriations slated for education and 25 percent for health care policy and financing, lawmakers will carefully scrutinize how money is spent in those large-share areas, she said.

Also posing challenges for health policy legislation is the Affordable Care Act, which will be heard in the Supreme Court in March, and the fact that the Colorado Legislature is divided -- Republicans hold the majority in the House and Democrats have a majority in the Senate. Twenty-five percent fewer bills were passed last year than the previous year, Summerton said.

Nonetheless, according to Summerton, emerging health policy themes for 2012 are:

  • Departmental efficiencies and alignment.
  • Program cost savings and improvements.
  • Health care workforce -- a focus on quality.
  • Healthier communities.
  • Essential health benefits.

On the first theme -- efficiencies and alignment -- Summerton said to expect Gov. John Hickenlooper to push for delivery of services to be more efficient. It will likely be proposed that long-term care services and supports be merged under one agency, and a new Office of Early Childhood and Youth Development be moved to the Department of Human Services to consolidate early intervention.

On the last theme -- essential health benefits -- states will move toward implementing health reform, or the Affordable Care Act. States are expected to choose essential health benefits for individual and small group insurance plans from one of four benchmark plans currently offered in the state:

  • One of the three largest small group plans.
  • One of the three largest state employee health plans.
  • One of the three largest federal health plan options
  • The largest HMO plan offered in the state commercial market.

"The Colorado Department of Insurance and the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange, as well as the governor, are working to make sure the data are being put together on all those plans so we can make those decisions," Summerton said. "Likely, there will be legislation to determine what those central health benefits will be. That will be one of the biggest issues in the Legislature this year."

To see Summerton's presentation, part of the Impact Series at the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus, go to the Colorado Health Institute and click "Presentations & Publications."

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Contact: christopher.casey@ucdenver.edu

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