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Lawmakers to tackle a hodgepodge of healthcare-related bills
By Erika Gonzalez
Colorado Public News
Colorado lawmakers expect to consider numerous healthcare-related issues this session, from tougher “truth in advertising” requirements for medical providers to imposing more stringent standards for food sold in public schools.
But with Colorado’s rising Medicaid costs already devouring a third of the state budget, don’t expect to see many healthcare-related measures aimed at funding new programs or expanding services.
Instead, legislators are focused on cutting costs to meet current obligations as they gear up for the new session.
“Everybody is asking tough questions about how we find more cost efficiencies,” said state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, (R-Berthoud).
The “truth in advertising” bill is designed to prevent licensed medical professionals from misrepresenting their credentials or services in promotional materials.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Morse, (D-Colorado Springs) grew out of concerns over chiropractor Brandon Credeur, who is being sued by a group of patients who claim he misrepresented himself as an endocrinologist. Credeur was investigated by Denver ABC affiliate KMGH Channel 7 last spring and is now facing charges filed by the Colorado Attorney General’s office, including counts for unethical advertising and performing beyond the scope of his services.
After the revelations about Credeur came to light, the Colorado Medical Society convened a work group of attorneys and physicians to develop the soon-to-be introduced legislation.
“The truth is that the gray areas in state laws governing health care advertising put patients at risk of being sandbagged and exploited by predatory and unscrupulous practitioners, who make promises they can’t keep about their own training and abilities, “ said CMS President Dr. Brent Keeler.
Also on tap are a few bills brewing aimed at improving public health. Allison Summerton, research analyst for the Colorado Health Institute, said a bill regarding food in public schools could set new standards, including banning trans fats.
A proposal to provide oral health care services for pregnant Medicaid clients is also in the works. Studies have shown that children whose mothers have poor oral health are more likely to develop tooth decay. Treatment of tooth decay in pregnancy can also prevent mothers from transmitting bacteria to their children.
Sen. Betty Boyd, (D-Lakewood) agrees that oral health care services are “critically important” but said she isn’t sure where the funding would come from to support the measure. Likewise, efforts to increase funding for senior services could also encounter problems.
Kelli Fritts, associate state director for advocacy for AARP, said the state has funded senior services at about $10 million for several years, although more than $100 million in needs exist.
“We recognize times are tight, but there needs to be an investment now, so we can save money in the future,” Fritts said.
Another Boyd-sponsored bill would consolidate the administration and delivery of long-term care services under the Department of Health Care and Public Financing.
“Consolidation can be a really good idea, if it’s done right and it’s effective in the end,” Boyd said.
Boyd, the chair of the Health and Human Services committee, is also working on a bill that would streamline procurement practices for Medicaid and eliminate double contracting requirements in some instances. The Department of Health Care and Public Financing has also put forth a bevy of cost-sharing initiatives, including adding an enrollment fee for Children’s Health Plan participants and charging Medicaid recipients co-pays for certain services, such as non-emergency use of an emergency room.
“The idea is to try and use copayments to encourage the most appropriate use of services,” said Summerton, of the Colorado Health Institute.
Lundberg, meanwhile, has plans to reintroduce a bill from last year that would allow a Medicaid-eligible elderly individuals to choose between Medicaid and receiving an amount equal to 70 percent of the medical assistance benefits they would have received from Medicaid. Lundberg says recipients can use those benefits to seek services from providers outside the Medicaid system.
“One of the biggest examples is nursing home care,” said Lundberg, a member of the Health and Human Services committee. “It’s the most expensive option for long-term care. A lot of assisted facilities can provide comparable care but not all qualify as a Medicaid provider.”
Beyond cost-cutting measures, legislators are placing their bets on health care bills that have little to no fiscal impact. One bill, for example, would improve the way data is collected from health care providers in order to provide an accurate of picture of Colorado’s practicing health care workforce. Boyd, who sponsored a similar bill last year that would have made the Division of Registrations responsible for implementing a data collection system, said the impact of the bill should be “absorbable.”
‘I think it’s just a matter of collecting the data in a more effective way,” she said.
Neither Boyd nor Lundberg said they would be surprised to see legislation repealing
the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange that passed last year, though neither expects such a measure would go very far. The exchange has plans to launch in late 2013.