Will new Colorado health care laws help Yampa Valley patients?

Suzie Romig
Craig Press
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis addresses a group gathered June 3, 2023 at the Lincoln Health Byers Clinic for the signing of Senate Bill 23-298, which supports collaborative purchasing among rural hospitals including Memorial Regional Health in Craig.
Colorado Hospital Association/Courtesy photo

The degree of positive affect that recently signed Colorado laws will have on health care services, hospitals and patients in the Yampa Valley depends if someone asks an elected politician or a hospital leader.

State legislators and hospital officials both say they share the same goals of reducing overall health care costs, making health insurance more affordable and increasing access to health care services. Yet, whether this year’s busy legislative session will improve those concerns is a little bit of a waiting game.

Officials with the Colorado Hospital Association are still frustrated with the “significant operational impacts and cost increases” for implementing the high number of health care-related laws that have been created in Colorado over the past two years, according to Joshua Ewing, vice president for government affairs for the nonprofit association that includes more than 100 hospitals.

“We are trying to tackle some really big challenging topics — that’s the job of our elected officials,” Ewing said. “But I think we are trying to do a lot in a short period of time.”

Hospital administrators are concerned new reporting and transparency requirements will increase hospital staffing and consultant costs but will not directly improve patient care.

“Our hospitals struggle to keep up, and a lot of these new laws require us to hire (a full-time employee) to complete paperwork, to do reporting to be in compliance, and it’s tough right now,” Ewing said. “It’s a lot to keep up with, especially in recent years.”

Dan Weaver, vice president for communications for the UCHealth system that includes Yampa Valley Medical Center, said some of the new laws duplicate various efforts that UCHealth already does to report to the IRS, to follow regulations for nonprofits and to reach out to community organizations.

After the close of the 2023 Colorado State Legislative session in May, state Sen. Dylan Roberts was still at work over Zoom but was spending more time with his 1-year son Teddy too.

“We are concerned that several of these bills would be duplicative or increase the administrative burden and increase our actual costs from providing care,” Weaver said. “Some of these bills will have fairly small impacts for the public and patients, and potentially no impact, but will increase hospitals’ overall administrative burden.”

State Sen. Dylan Roberts, whose district includes Routt, Moffat, Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Rio Blanco and Summit counties, called the 2023 legislative session “a year of implementation” and noted that most of the bills passed with bipartisan support. Roberts explained that many of the new bills introduced “are driven by what we hear from our constituents, patients and customers in our districts.”

“The bills that passed this legislative session on health care continued the progress we’ve been making over the last several years to lower health care costs, helping people save money on insurance premiums and prescription drugs, and increasing access to care across Colorado,” Roberts said by phone.

The senator said the most impactful new health care related law for the Yampa Valley is the Health Benefit Plan Act, which makes modifications to the existing Colorado Option Health Insurance Plan to ensure more affordability in 2024.

Roberts noted that since last fall, medical insurance patients in Routt and Moffat counties have had more than one option on the state-sponsored program Colorado Option. That program for health insurance is available to all Coloradans who buy their health insurance on the individual market, as well as for small employers with less than 100 employees.

Roberts also said SB23-298, known as “Allow Public Hospital Collaboration Agreements,” is important for smaller, independent hospitals such as Memorial Regional Health in Craig, which was one of the hospitals that advocated for the bill. The new law allows more group negotiating power for small hospitals to collaborate on purchasing equipment, supplies and medications, as well as contracting temporary staffing in order to lower costs.

The Memorial Hospital in Craig, part of Memorial Regional Health, is located at 750 Hospital Loop on the northwest side of Craig. MRH was one of the entities that advocated for the creation of a new state law that allows rural hospitals to collaborate on group purchasing negotiations to lower medical costs.
Memorial Regional Health/Courtesy photo

Colorado has 43 rural hospitals such as in Craig, and previously, independent hospitals were unable to enter into collaborative agreements because of antitrust laws.

“Rural hospitals across the state are struggling to find ways to maintain financial viability while remaining independent,” MRH CEO Jennifer Riley said. “This bill opens the door for rural hospitals to work together. This bill now expressly allows for collaboration, and if a project presents itself, we can move forward quickly.”

Roberts also co-sponsored HB23-1002, Epinephrine Auto-injectors, which places a cap on the cost of EpiPens at $60 per two-pack for every Coloradan. The medication is needed in emergencies during serious allergic reactions.

Ewing at the hospital association said another positive new law is HB23-1246, which provides funding to support education for in-demand career workforce sectors including nursing. The bill allocates millions of dollars to community and technical colleges, local district colleges and Colorado Mesa University.

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