Govt. Jared Polis on Wednesday signed two bills that reached the finish line after several years of work – one measure allows a patient in a hospital or long-term care facility to have one visitor during a pandemic and another requires a review of how much a new health benefit could add to the cost of health insurance premiums.
The measure on hospital visitation, Senate Bill 53, took several years to win approval from the Democrat-controlled legislature.
Sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, SB 53 would allow a patient in a hospital or long-term care facility to have one visitor during a pandemic – but under a long list of restrictions sought by those facilities and that Sonnenberg agreed to add. Sonnenberg said earlier in the session the bill is the most important one he’s carried in his 16 years in the General Assembly.
The bill requires health care facilities to have clear visitation policies, with restrictions that could limit visitors to reduce the heightened risk of transmitting a disease during a health emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. But the bill also says a facility cannot block visitors strictly because of that risk. Under the legislation, facilities would be allowed to require testing, masking and a signed waiver on the risks, and deny visitors who show symptoms. An amendment added to the bill also says verbal and physical assaults on health care workers would not be tolerated.
SB 53 was on initially on life support in its first hearing in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, but it won crucial support from Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, who lost family members to COVID and saw firsthand the isolation experienced by those hospitalized with the virus. After that, SB 53 won a 23-10 vote from the full Senate. It headed to the House also under an uncertain future. Goal after Rep. Barbara McLachlan, Durango, signed on as a co-sponsor, the path to the governor’s desk got a little easier and the bill won final approval on a 53-7 vote in the House on the session’s last day.
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Hospitals, including the Colorado Hospital Association, lobbied heavily against the measure, the fourth attempt by Republicans to enact similar policies since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Polis signed SB 53 during a ceremony early Wednesday in Wiggins. He also signed a measure early Wednesday in Fort Morgan to help small-scale meat packing plants and producers to receive help from the state Department of Agriculture with obtaining loans and grants from the US Department of Agriculture that would allow for new meat-packing businesses or expansion of existing businesses.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jim Smallwood, R-Parker, has been on a mission for several years to require a review of how much a new health benefit could add to the costs of health insurance premiums. He’s had backing from Polis on the issue, as the governor has sought to reduce the cost of health insurance premiums. Adding new benefits can add substantial costs to those premiums, but until the 2022 session, legislative Democrats were not ready to get on board.
An actuarial analysis, as described by Senate Bill 40, would show just how much a proposed mandate would add to the cost of health insurance premiums. Over the past several years, lawmakers have mandated insurers cover the cost of infertility treatments, annual mental health exams, insulin, noninvasive screenings for breast cancer and HIV prevention medications.
Under Senate Bill 40, the Division of Insurance would be required to hire a third-party contractor who would conduct up to five reviews per year on benefit mandates being proposed by the General Assembly. Those reviews would be required to identify how much the new benefit would cost at five years and 10 years after enactment. The review could also look at legislation that seeks to reduce or eliminate benefit coverage.
The bill says those reviews must include an estimate of how many Colorado residents would use the benefit; changes in consumer costs, such as co-pays; how much the new benefit would drive in higher health insurance premiums; and, the social and economic effects, if available.
Lawmakers would have until September 1 to seek those reviews for bills to be introduced in the following legislative session.
Polis has warned lawmakers twice in the last two years that he did not want to see any more health insurance mandates unless there were cost savings to be had as a result. Two previous attempts to allow for those actuarial reviews died in the state Senate.
This Friday is the 30th and last day after the end of the 2022 legislative session, and that is also the last day Polis has to sign, veto or allow to become law without his signature any bill sent to him by lawmakers.
Govt. Jared Polis to General Assembly: No more health insurance mandates, please