Cassidy Smith and Kyle Legleiter are public policy officers for the Colorado Health Foundation.
To advance our vision, the Colorado Health Foundation supports public policy that promotes Healthy Living, provides Health Coverage and ensures that all Coloradans have access to coordinated and high-quality Health Care.
According to the Colorado Health Institute, major political issues such as jobs and the economy, child welfare, civil unions, K-12 education, marijuana regulation and gun control likely will be debated during the 120-day Colorado General Assembly, which convened Jan. 9.
Throughout the session, the Foundation will work with many partners to elevate health as an important issue for the state. This year, our attention will focus on strengthening Medicaid, supporting integrated health care and increasing participation in school breakfast programs.
A culture of coverage
If more people have health insurance coverage, then access to care improves, health improves and life expectancy increases. The Institute of Medicine found that insurance status — more than any other demographic or economic factor — determines the timeliness and quality of health care received. Research also shows that parents who have health coverage are more likely to insure their children and take them to the doctor.
According to the Colorado Health Access Survey, 829,000 Coloradans were uninsured in 2011. Starting in 2014, this number is expected to decrease as individuals and small businesses gain access to more affordable health coverage through the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange. In addition, more than 160,000 Coloradans are expected to become eligible for Medicaid thanks to Gov. John Hickenlooper's announcement about the state's plans to expand Medicaid as directed by the federal health reform law.
The Foundation will support legislation to allow more Coloradans to enroll in Medicaid. We are among many Colorado organizations that share a common belief in the value of Medicaid to our state's overall health and the strength of our economy.
We are equally supportive of efforts to make health coverage more affordable for individuals and families by curbing unnecessary health care spending. In addition to launching its own initiatives to achieve better care at lower, contained costs, the Center for Improving Value in Health Care has summarized other efforts underway in the state to reform health care delivery and payment.
Connecting the mind, mouth and body
Along with promoting health coverage for more Coloradans, we believe that health coverage must be linked to the provision of integrated health care services that increase the quality of care delivered, improve, individual health outcomes and reduce costs over the long term.
Integrated primary care combines medical, behavioral and dental services to address the whole person — not just one aspect of his or her health. There are numerous efforts to integrate physical, behavioral and oral health care services throughout the state, especially among Colorado's safety net providers such as community health centers, community mental health centers, rural health clinics and school-based health centers.
The Foundation supports proposals outlined in the governor's fiscal year 2013-14 budget request to increase access to vital behavioral health and oral health services. Of particular interest are the proposals to improve mental health services provided within the community, including the development of a behavioral health crisis care system, and better integration of substance use disorder and mental health services.
Additionally, we support the proposed dental benefit for adults enrolled in Medicaid and the potential to improve access to regular, preventive dental care; save money on emergency care in the future; and improve overall health.
These initiatives will further enhance the provision of integrated health care services in the state.
Improving access to healthy food
Addressing underlying social, economic and environmental factors that have a substantial impact on health is a key component of the Foundation's vision of making Colorado the healthiest state. We work to ensure that all Coloradans have access to opportunities for physical activity, healthy foods, and chronic disease management tools so that healthy choices are easy choices in our communities and schools.
Healthy food access will be an important topic in 2013 as the legislature considers extensions of Colorado's Food Systems Advisory Council and the Farm-to-School Task Force. The Foundation also supports legislation aimed at increasing participation in school breakfast programs among low-income students. Currently, for every 100 students receiving free or reduced price school lunches in Colorado, only 40 students eat the school breakfast for which they are also eligible.
For the 22 percent of Colorado children living in food insecure households, increasing participation in the school breakfast program can improve both their health and their academic performance. Reducing hunger may also support the Foundation's efforts to reduce obesity in Colorado as food insecure children are 1.4 times more likely to be obese than children who are not food insecure.
As we embark on the 2013 session of the Colorado Legislature, we look forward to working with members of the General Assembly and our advocacy partners to champion these efforts to improve the health of Coloradans.