By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Gov. Bill Ritter stood flanked Thursday at the Colorado History Museum by more than a dozen lawmakers in announcing a package of bills aimed at reforming the state’s health care system.
The announcement came with a report card from the Colorado Health Foundation that the state dropped from a C- in 2008 to a D+ in terms of children’s health care, prompting the governor to defend actions taken by his administration in the area.
Noting that reform has been slowed in Washington, the governor and lawmakers say they are taking it upon themselves to focus on cost-savings and efficiencies that they say will improve both public and private insurance programs offered in Colorado.
“We can’t wait for Washington to act, and we aren’t,” said the governor.
The package of 10 bills tackles everything from Medicaid efficiencies to providing women with breast cancer screenings as part of their insurance plans.
Perhaps the most notable of the bills is the Medicaid Efficiencies Act, sponsored by Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, and Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley. Senate Bill 167 would increase investigations into fraud and abuse of the state’s Medicaid system, as well as attempt to increase administrative efficiencies.
The governor noted that the state has recovered more than $300 million in connection with Medicaid fraud. He said becoming more aggressive at attacking fraud and abuse of the program would provide much-needed dollars to provide health insurance at a time when the state is facing a budget shortfall of over $2 billion. Increasing administrative efficiencies would get patients to their doctors faster, added the governor.
Four of the bills announced Thursday would provide clarity for consumers when dealing with their health providers. House Bill 1166 would get rid of confusing language and “jargon” written into insurance policies and would replace it with plain-language that is “clear and simple to understand;” House Bill 1242 would require insurance carriers to use a standard, uniform application; House Bill 1004 would standardize policy forms and clarify the explanation of benefits; and House Bill 1332 would standardize insurance billing codes across all providers, allowing doctors to spend more time with patients.
“It is important to remember that strong healthy citizens are essential to a strong healthy economy,” said Boyd. “We are making it a top priority to ensure that all Coloradans have access to affordable health care.”
The announcement Thursday came as the Colorado Health Foundation released a report card for child health in Colorado — giving the state a dismal D+, based on accessibility and quality care factors — a drop from a C- in 2008. One of the biggest issues to the Colorado Health Foundation is the issue of child obesity, noting that Colorado last year ranked 34th in the nation for the percent of children who were physically active for four or more days per week.
“Children who do not have regular access to quality health care are more likely to use emergency services, develop long-term illnesses and struggle in school and life,” said Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign. “This grade is a predictor of the many challenges ahead for Colorado’s kids and the future of our state.”
Ritter, who when he took office in 2007 promised to fight so that all children in Colorado have affordable health care, defended actions taken by his administration on health reform for children, arguing that there is a lag effect in the data released Thursday by the Colorado Health Foundation. He pointed to 2007 legislation that is working to place 216,000 low-income children in medical homes.
“You don’t pass a bill about medical homes and then the next day every child shows up in a medical home, what happens is there’s a real lag effect,” he told reporters following remarks before the Colorado Health Foundation.
The governor joked that he would “bet dollars to donuts” — a reference to the state’s childhood obesity rate — that in the next report “you will see that we have made this really significant stride around a variety of issues, particularly regarding children.”
Ritter also signed an executive order Thursday requiring state departments to share citizenship information electronically, with the aim of making it easier for low-income Coloradans to enroll in public health programs.
Other bills announced Thursday were House Bill 1330, which would create a database of claims, with the ultimate goal of providing consumers with valuable information pertaining to all health care providers, not just hospitals; House Bill 1008, which would prohibit gender discrimination in health insurance, pointing to studies that show that women pay almost 40 percent more than men for the same coverage; House Bill 1252, which would ensure breast cancer screenings are covered by a woman’s insurance plan; Senate Bill 58, which would expand the CollegeInvest nurse loan forgiveness program; and House Bill 1138, which would provide incentives for health care professionals to practice in rural communities.
“This legislative session, our focus will continue to be on delivering a better value for each health care dollar spent in Colorado,” said Ritter.