Senate gives final approval to Colorado public healthcare option; bill heads to House

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DENVER (KDVR) — A bill that would give Colorado a state health plan that’s available in every county — one of the most major bills this legislative session — just got a final yes vote in the Senate.

While the measure awaits its final House vote, some who are directly impacted by the bill are breathing a sigh of relief about some last-minute changes.

In an industry already pushed to the brink by COVID-19, psychologists were worried the state’s standardized health plan — which would force insurance companies to reduce their premiums over the next two years — would have unintended consequences for people providing care.

“In the state of Colorado, there are more patients who need mental health help than available providers to help them, and this gap has only gotten bigger with the increased mental health ban that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Alyssa Oland, a licensed clinical psychologist.

Amid 11 hours of debate Tuesday night, lawmakers amended House Bill 1232 in doctors’ favor.

“The big thing that was in there is that there was the ability of the commissioner to levy a fine of 5,000 (dollars) for providers who didn’t participate. They would get a warning, then they would be fined, and that fine would be levied once a year,” said Julia Jacobs, of the Colorado Psychological Association.

“Providers who have student loan debt, which the majority of psychologists and medical providers do have extensive student loan debt, would not be able to continue to afford to work in Colorado if they are mandated to accept fees for their services,” Oland said.

“Proponents of this bill said, ‘We’re removing the warning and the fine,'” El Paso Sen. Bob Gardner explained on the floor Wednesday.

While providers may still be required to participate in the plan if it becomes law, doctors said they are optimistic more providers will be on board with this now that fines are lifted.

“We certainly support the goals of this bill,” Jacobs said. “I mean we absolutely want to increase access to care. We absolutely want to allow equitable healthcare. The more people who can get healthcare the better. We were just concerned about the specifics about how it was going to be implemented.”

Enforcing this bill will not be cheap. It will cost the state around $1.2 million for regulators to get it going.

Gov. Jared Polis is expected to support the effort.

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