Colorado legislative bills could impact health care in Northwest Colorado | CraigDailyPress.com

Colorado legislative bills could impact health care in Northwest Colorado

Health care bills circulating the Colorado General Assembly could have an impact on Northwest Colorado.

— The Colorado Legislature is now a month into its 2015 session, and there are several health care bills trying to make it to the governor's desk that could have an impact on Northwest Coloradans. From mental health for minors to telemedicine to health care price transparency, these bills would take steps to improve access to health care and to simplify costs for self-pay clients.

House Bill 15-1029: Increased coverage for telemedicine by health insurance companies

The first of these bills, which already passed through the House, seeks to increase insurance coverage throughout the state for health care services delivered through telemedicine.

Telemedicine is quickly becoming a more popular method for providing health care, especially for residents of rural areas. Visits with a doctor take place in a local clinic equipped with big screens, connecting patient and doctor both visually and audibly, much like Skype or Facetime.

Introduced by Representatives Perry Buck, R–Dist. 49, and Joann Ginal, D–52, the bill would require health insurance companies to treat telemedicine visits the same as an in-person visit. Some requirements are already in place for insured individuals who reside in a county with 150,000 of fewer residents, but this bill would expand coverage of telehealth services for patients statewide, regardless of location.

"It just removes barriers and limits on telehealth so physicians can use this as a valuable tool whenever and wherever it's in the best interest of patient," Buck explained.

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Buck said she sees more telemedicine happening already, and expects it to help reduce overall health costs.

"I think it's going to help rural areas more than any area," Buck said, who represents parts of unincorporated Larimer County.

House Bill 15-1032: Allowing licensed mental health professionals to provide mental health services to minors age 15 and up

HB15-1032 seeks to improve access to mental health care for young Coloradans statewide, and the bill could have an especially significant impact on small towns and rural regions, which tend to have more limited mental health care resources.

Under current law, only a licensed doctor or psychologist can provide mental health services to minors age 15 or older without the consent of a parent or legal guardian.

The bill seeks to endow other licensed mental health professionals with this privilege, such as licensed social workers, counselors, marriage and family therapists and addiction counselors.

"This is something that will allow young adults that are literally at their wit's end to have access to help that they should have with mental health professionals who have already been trained for this," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jonathan Singer, D–Dist. 11. "Right now, if a 15- to 18-year-old were in crisis or were to need to talk to someone, in almost all situations, if they didn't have access to a school-based or community-based mental health center, they would not be able to receive services without mom or dad first signing off on it."

Craig Program Director for Mind Springs Health Craig Thornhill explained that cases where parents are not involved are rare, and tend to be limited to cases of physical or sexual abuse or those with court involvement.

Regardless, Singer sees the bill as a common sense move.

"Colorado has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation and more barriers to services to help kids when thy need them puts us behind the eight ball and puts kids at unnecessary risk," Singer said. "Kids need a safe place to come and talk to someone who's a professional."

Senate Bill 15-074: Disclosing health care costs to self-pay patients

More people are becoming insured thanks to the Affordable Care Act, but there are still those that pay out-of-pocket for their health care services.

This bill seeks to make that process easier for self-pay patients, whether uninsured or with a high-deductible plan.

SB 15-074 would create the "Transparency in Health Care Prices Act," requiring health care providers to list the costs of their 25 most commonly provided health care services, much like creating a menu with prices on it.

"I started talking to a lot of people who were frustrated by the fact that if they wanted to go out and get a service they couldn't get a price," said the bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Tim Neville, R – District 16. "If someone's paying out of pocket, they have skin in the game and they should know what they're paying. They should be able to budget… Hopefully this gives them a better idea."

In 2013, pre-ACA, Northwest Coloradans had the highest uninsured rates in the state, with nearly one in four people uninsured.

"I'd like to think outside of the government health insurance system and start focusing on the health care provider and patient," Neville said. "What's missing is the market for costs so they can be a wise consumer and make a choice about what they want to do or not do."

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com.

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