Newell, Ferrandino outline health reform proposals

In March 2008, state Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, lost her job. So she extended her employer-based health insurance coverage through COBRA. Then she went to California to visit her mother who was sick and in hospice care. In that time, Newell missed making a COBRA payment. COBRA wouldn’t accept a late payment. That’s how Newell and her two daughters joined the growing ranks of the uninsured Americans for eight months and racked up $14,000 in medical bills.

Colorado Sen. Linda Newell and Rep. Mark Ferrandino

Colorado Sen. Linda Newell and Rep. Mark Ferrandino

Newell told the story Thursday at the Colorado Voices for Coverage 2009 conference. She was explaining that she is committed to working on health care reform– and that, for her, it’s personal.

When she lost her COBRA coverage, Newell sought insurance on the individual market. But she was taking medication to prevent osteoporosis, having shown early signs of the disease, so the insurance companies turned her away. Newell had a “pre-existing condition.” She was rejected by four different insurance companies. She quit taking her preventative pills because they were too expensive.

“I was penalized for being preventative,” she said.

It was only when Newell took her seat in the Senate that she and her family were again insured. She is now struggling to pay off the medical bills on her $30,000-a-year Senate salary.

“So I am a great example of a Coloradan in my district, in any district,” she said. “It’s the reality out there.”

Newell’s health care bills

Newell is working on three health reform bills in the coming legislative session.

One would create a health services corps to attract health care providers to Colorado’s rural areas. She is still working on possible incentives, she said.

Another would enroll families automatically in Medicaid or the Colorado Child Health Plan, a state-sponsored plan for pregnant women and children who are slightly above the Medicaid income cap. Newell explained that many who are eligible for health care aid don’t enroll, either because they don’t realize they’re eligible or because they don’t know how to apply. Those families end up costing the state more money, she said, because they land in emergency rooms when they need care.

Yet the state doesn’t have the money or resources to promote enrollment options for families. Newell is therefore proposing adding a section to the state tax form that would auto-enroll eligible families in government-sponsored health insurance.

The third bill she plans to propose would implement some of the recommendations from Gov. Bill Ritter’s Child Welfare Action Committee.

One suggested reform would see the creation of a state Office of the Child Advocate, which would investigate complaints or concerns about child welfare programs. Right now, Newell said, complaints are handled by “a hodgepodge” of citizen review panels, some of which are more effective than others.

Ferrandino’s bill

Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, told the conference attendees that he’s working on a bill that would create an “all-payers claim database.” The database would track all public and private claims, he said, so that the state could keep an accurate record of what different providers are charging for different services.

“It will help us understand what is happening in our state and make better decisions,” he said.

Ferrandino expected the database would cost up to $2 million and would be paid for by federal and private grants.

Ferrandino and Newell were realistic about the fact that, as much as reforms and new programs are needed, the upcoming state session will be heavily focused on cost-cutting.

“Right now, the issue is that we don’t have enough resources,” said Ferrandino. “So how can we do more with less?”

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Katie Redding

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