After an eventful 120 days, Colorado's 2013 legislative session officially ended earlier this month. Overall, it was an unusual session with lawmakers tackling controversial topics such as school finance, civil unions, gun safety and recreational marijuana.
Though health didn't dominate the headlines of the 2013 session, it was a successful year for advancing public policies that promote healthy living, provide health coverage and ensure all Coloradans have access to coordinated and high-quality health care. Major bills and budget items related to Medicaid expansion, oral health, behavioral health, healthy schools and the health insurance exchange were passed into law. Here's a rundown of the health legislation the Colorado Health Foundation focused on this year:
Under HB13-1006, more than 360 Colorado schools will be required to offer a nutritious breakfast after the first bell to all students. In Colorado, one in five children struggle with hunger. Meanwhile, food insecurity is associated with an increased risk for childhood obesity. The new law will go into effect during the 2014-15 school year for schools where 80 percent or more of the student body is eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. In 2015-16, schools with 70 percent or more qualifying students will follow suit. As a result of this legislation, more than 80,000 additional Colorado children will have access to breakfasts that meet new federal nutrition standards for school meals authorized in the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act.
City and county governments across the state can spend their distributions from the state Highway User Tax Funds on a broader range of transportation projects in their communities under SB 13-48. Previously, local governments could only spend revenues from state gas taxes on road construction and maintenance. Beginning in July 2013, SB13-048 will give cities and counties the option of using such funds to plan, design, construct, and maintain infrastructure for walking, biking and public transportation as well. Those types of infrastructure for active transportation can significantly increase Coloradans' opportunities to integrate physical activity into their daily lives. Research shows that people who live in neighborhoods where most streets have sidewalks are 47 percent more likely to get 30 minutes or more of physical activity every day. Public transportation users also take 30 percent more steps each day than people who travel by car.
Providing Health Coverage
The Colorado Health Foundation actively supported SB13-200 to expand Medicaid eligibility. The legislation enables Coloradans earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level to qualify for Medicaid coverage. Approval of the bill, the result of strong partnerships between policymakers and the health, advocacy, and business communities, ensures more vulnerable citizens and hard-working families in Colorado will have access to quality health care services.
The federal government will pay all Medicaid expansion costs in Colorado from 2014 to 2016, with its share gradually declining to 90 percent by 2020 and future years. According to an analysis funded by the Foundation and released earlier this year, the economic benefits of expansion will help cover the state's share of the costs. By 2026, Colorado will add 22,388 new jobs, increase economic activity by $4.4 billion and raise average annual household earnings by $608, as a result of expanding Medicaid eligibility.
Other health-related bills we and our partners supported this year include:
SB13-008 – Eliminates the requirement for children to be uninsured for three months before enrolling in Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+). CHP+ is public health insurance for children and pregnant women who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but cannot afford private health insurance.
HB13-1245 – Creates funding mechanisms for Connect for Health Colorado (formerly known as the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange) to help the new health insurance marketplace with startup costs. The funding sources include an assessment on health plans in the small group and individual markets limited to a $1.80 per health plan member per month and a premium tax credit for insurance carrier donations to Connect for Health Colorado.
SB13-230 – The so-called long bill details the level of funding available for state government agencies for state fiscal year 2013-14. The budget includes a $4.3 million increase for School-Based Health Centers and funding for the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing for an expanded substance use disorder treatment Medicaid benefit and the ability to hire an administrative service organization for the children's Medicaid dental benefit.
SB13-242 – Adds a limited dental benefit for all adults covered by Medicaid. Currently these individuals have access to emergency dental care only.
SB13-266 – Dedicates $20 million to revamp Colorado's mental health crisis response system. It sets up a request for proposal process for a statewide 24-hour hotline, 24-hour walk-in stabilization centers and respite care among other services.
HB13-1015 – Eliminates the prohibition for small-group carriers to disclose mental health information. It enables small group carriers to report mental health claims data to the state's all-payer claims database, which will improve the validity of health care cost data.
SB13-174 – In 2010, the general assembly created the Colorado Food Systems Advisory Council to foster a healthy food supply available to all Colorado residents while enhancing the state's agricultural and natural resources, encouraging economic growth, expanding the viability of agriculture, and improving the health of Colorado's communities and residents by making recommendations to the general assembly. The Council had been scheduled to sunset in 2013, but SB13-174 continues the Council indefinitely. The bill also adds two more members to the Council and ensures diversity among the existing members.
SB13-153 – Continues the Colorado Farm to School Task Force indefinitely. The bill allows the 13-member Task Force to proceed with its work to study, develop, and recommend policies and methods to connect local production of healthy foods to school food service programs.
We congratulate and thank the members of the General Assembly and our advocacy partners for making this a noteworthy year in advancing policies to improve the health of Coloradans.
Kyle Legleiter and Cassidy Smith are public policy officers for the Colorado Health Foundation. The Foundation supports policies consistent with its focus on Healthy Living, Health Coverage and Health Care.