The 2019 Legislative Session was full of highs and lows for pro-health legislation. Almost all of our top priority bills passed—and we are ecstatic. In one of the biggest successes of the session, Colorado became one of the first states to pass a public option bill as a means of tackling the rising costs of health insurance. In this system, middle-income, working-age Coloradans will be able to purchase a state-backed insurance plan. We also loosened Big Tobacco’s grip on Colorado, passing a law allowing counties and cities to finally be able to regulate nicotine products as they see fit.
Of all of our Tier 1 bills, there was only one that didn’t reach the finish line: a measure to bring a statewide tax on nicotine to the ballot this November. Although tens of thousands of dollars were spent by our opposition to defeat this bill in the final two weeks of the session, our members still answered with thousands of phone calls and emails to legislators. We are eager for our next battle with them in the 2020 Legislative Session and feel confident that with the continued support of our members, we can defeat the vaping crisis plaguing Colorado’s kids.
Below are some of the most notable bills we pushed for this legislative session but feel free to take a look at our full list 2019 Legislative Priorities.
With bipartisan support, Colorado is set to become one of the first states in the nation to pass a public health insurance option. Colorado’s public option plan will allow working-age adults in the individual market to use a public insurance option — similar to Medicaid or Medicare — instead of purchasing off of the private market. Insurance prices on the individual market in Colorado have surged over the years and House Bill 19-1004 is one of the many tactics being implemented to reduce health care costs.
Another Tier 1 bill that looks to tackle the rising costs of health care was Senate Bill 19-004. Over the last several years, Eastern and Western Coloradans saw double-digit average rate increases on their health care premiums, sometimes higher than 30 percent. This bill is a pilot program and will allow some Coloradans to buy into the state’s private insurance plan. Health care co-ops will now be able to cover preexisting conditions, and encourage consumers to help control health care costs by negotiating rates on a collective basis directly with providers. This bill will help Coloradans find affordable plans in parts of the state that currently have limited options.
Big Tobacco has held its grip on Colorado for too long. This bill strikes a decades-old state law that financially penalizes localities when they even attempt to license, tax, or assess a fee to cigarettes. It also allows counties and cities to regulate tobacco products, e-cigarettes, and nicotine products as they see fit, without worrying about incurring a financial penalty. We know that increasing prices and licensing has an immediate impact on teen smoking rates, overall health outcomes, and associated healthcare costs. Aspen successfully raised the age of tobacco purchase to 21 in 2017, and now other municipalities will be able to advocate and vote for similar bills in their communities without the fear of repercussions. House Bill 1033 is one of the many bills we have supported and will continue to push as we fight Colorado’s teen vaping epidemic.
In 2017, suicide was the leading cause of death for children ages 10-24 in Colorado, and our state consistently ranks in the top ten states with the highest suicide rates overall. This bill creates a children’s behavioral health governing body, the Colorado Children and Youth Behavioral Health Commission, which would reside in the office of the governor. The commission would be tasked with advancing specific policy, budgetary, and programmatic priorities and recommendations to better serve the children and families of Colorado. It would also bring together child-serving system leadership with representation from several state departments to fill in necessary gaps so Colorado’s youth can get the help they need efficiently and effectively. Senate Bill 19-195 will help Colorado increase access to needed prevention, early intervention, services, and support our youth so desperately need.
Colorado is facing a youth vaping epidemic — our teens vape at nearly twice the national average, and we lead the county in teen e-cigarette use This bill would have allowed Colorado voters to vote on a tobacco and nicotine tax increase this November on the statewide ballotStudies have shown that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes leads to roughly a 7 percent decrease in youth usage. The revenue from taxes would have been distributed to health care and education programs. House Bill 1333 was one of the bills we put the most resources behind, and the tobacco lobby threw thousands of dollars in a campaign against it. We are frustrated that this important piece of legislation did not make it through the legislature, but also heartened by the thousands of actions from activists across our state in the final few weeks to try to get it through.
Win or lose, these bills would not have made it nearly as far as they did in the legislative process without the help of our members. Every phone call, email, and social media share was critical in moving these bills through the legislature. Another highlight of this session is we reached 500 recurring monthly donors! And just like our activists, our donors are crucial to keeping Healthier Colorado’s doors open. The $5 monthly donations and the $100 monthly donations allow us to keep our members informed on crucial, pro-health legislation. We can not say thank you enough to the Healthier Colorado members, and look forward to all the exciting work we will embark upon in next session too!