2006 legislation takes aim at state health care issues

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Legislative members of the Colorado Health Care Task Force and the Interim Committee on Health Insurance met over the summer to exchange ideas and determine ways to ease the pain of increasing health care woes and costs.
As a result of those committee meetings, a few bills will be introduced in the Colorado General Assembly in 2006 addressing everything from hospital accountability to small business health care coverage.
The Colorado Health Care Task Force drafted bills that will streamline operations in hospitals, home health care agencies and the department of corrections.
One bill will be reintroduced (it was postponed when the session ended this year) that requires Colorado hospitals to report infections. According to a story by Anne Cumming Rice in The Northern Colorado Business Report, the 2006 infections bill will require that Colorado hospital officials track and report the three most common infections occurring in patients in their facilities. The story says that, if passed, the measure is “projected to save the state $3 million a year in Medicaid costs.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four states have passed legislation requiring that hospitals report patient infections. CDC statistics estimate that almost 2 million hospital patients contract infections each year, and 90,000 of them die from those infections. Bloodstream infections, urinary tract infections, surgical site infections and pneumonia are the most common types of infections.
The CDC says that legislation requiring hospital officials to go on record to report those infections reduces those numbers. Thirty other states are considering similar legislation.
“We support the issue of reporting, but our concern is about uniformity and comparability and risk adjustment (differences in hospital illnesses, etc.), said Larry Wall, the president of the Colorado Health and Hospital Association. “And Colorado should be able to compare itself to the rest of the nation (post reporting).”
The task force also created two bills addressing the use of telemedicine.
One requires the state to seek federal authorization for certified home health care agencies to be able to use telemedicine. The bill specifies that the “provision of home health care services through the use of telemedicine shall not be limited to the statewide managed care system.”
The other bill requires the Colorado Department of Corrections to study options for providing medical services to inmates through the use of telemedicine, which allows treatment from a distance using television, computers and special equipment. Telehealth has become the buzz word for non-clinical services, according to the Association of Telehealth Service Providers.
The Interim Committee on Health Insurance is introducing bills in 2006 that speak to the uninsured and the small business community.
The healthy business healthy people program expands the availability of health care coverage to qualifying Colorado small employers and individuals. The program would be administered by CoverColorado.
The bill creates a reinsurance arrangement “under which eligible small employer plans would … receive reimbursement for certain amounts of claims paid for the eligible insured.” The bill also requires small employer health insurance entities to issue small employer plans to “qualifying” small employers.
Another bill eliminates the requirement that small employer insurance carriers offer a standard health benefit plan to small employers in the state. The bill adds an additional benefit design option to the basic or standard health plan required to be offered to small employers. The insurance carriers would be able to offer a benefit design similar to those available to enrollees in a managed care organization.
Bills mitigating health care costs related to the uninsured or underinsured include a premium subsidy program for “qualifying individuals enrolled in qualifying health benefit plans.” The program would be limited to five years and geared toward counties with specific populations.
A bill that allows areas of the state to form health assurance districts would also authorize those districts to seek voter approval to levy a sales tax to generate revenue for health care services.
Another bill establishes a Colorado primary care program for specified low-income and uninsured adults who have a “qualifying” medical condition.
The General Assembly of Colorado will reconvene in January.
Marylou.Doehrman@csbj.com