Mar 21, 2016

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Legislative Update: March 21, 2016

by | Mar 21, 2016

Takeaways from budget forecasts
Colorado legislators on Friday heard the quarterly revenue forecasts from economists in Governor’s Office and Legislative Council. These forecasts provide a rough guide to the current budgeting and how much revenue the state expects to receive and how much it can spend during the next fiscal year.

Members of the Joint Budget Committee work out a budget (known as “the Long Bill”) that’s aligned with the projections, keeping in mind budgetary requests and constitutional constraints, such as the amendment commonly known as TABOR.

This year, the House will have the first review of the Long Bill before it goes to the Senate. Once approved by both chambers, it goes to the governor to sign or send back.

Here are some quick observations and analysis from today’s forecasts:

* Revenues are about $111 million less than what was budgeted for this fiscal year. Although the two forecasts didn’t agree on the exact number, they concur that taxpayers will not receive TABOR refunds in tax year 2016.

* Things will get interesting in fiscal year 2016-17. The forecasts agree that revenue will grow, but state budget writers will have less to spend on services and infrastructure. That’s because somewhere between $60 million and $150 million will be refunded to taxpayers in TABOR refunds of between $12 and $100 per tax filer depending on income.

* The shortfall in 2015-16 will not threaten the availability of the state Earned Income Tax Credit because the EITC is now a permanent part of Colorado’s budget. Also counting as good news is the fact the forecasts would allow the legislature to transfer as much as $80 million from the Unclaimed Property Trust Fund in the current fiscal year for affordable housing. CCLP is promoting legislation to transfer a substantial amount of idle funds in the Unclaimed Property Trust Fund to the Division of Housing to use for rental housing for very low-income households. A bill should be introduced soon.

* Finally, the job outlook is brightening. There are currently 1.4 job seekers for every job opening, down from 2.5 at the end of last year. At the height of the recession in 2009, there were 6.8 jobseekers in the U.S. for every job.

Bill to Watch: HB 1388
Hundreds of thousands of Coloradans whose opportunities are limited by past mistakes could see their job prospects improve under a bill being considered by Colorado legislators. House Bill 1388, sponsored by Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, would expand Colorado’s “ban the box” laws by prohibiting most employers from asking about criminal history on the initial job application. Most of the time, the question appears in a check-box commonly featured in application forms.

The legislation was developed by CCLP and is endorsed by a coalition of more than 50 organizations — including Mile High United Way, Denver Urban Ministries and local businesses.

Learn more about HB 1388 through this news release and on CCLP’s Responsible Re-Entry Webpage. Also, on Thursday, The Denver Post ran an article about the legislation.

On the Radar
* Senate Bill 162 would allow health care providers not enrolled with Medicaid to accept direct payment from Medicaid clients.

CCLP opposes the legislation because while it is likely intended to improve client access, there may be some significant consequences if the bill is passed. For example, Colorado and many other states have precluded non-Medicaid enrolled providers from billing Medicaid clients in an effort to protect the clients from debt collectors and harassment.   That’s because when Medicaid recipients receive needed care from providers who aren’t enrolled in the program, they may be on the hook for medical expenses they can’t afford. CCLP is also concerned that providers currently enrolled in Medicaid may drop out of the program if the bill passes so they can just start accepting cash payments. This would reduce overall availability of services to Medicaid clients.

* Kudos to Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, for building strong bipartisan support for HB 1100, which would let certain “homeless youth” qualify for in-state tuition at Colorado colleges and universities.

The legislation, which CCLP supports, passed the third reading in the Colorado House of Representatives by a vote of 49-15. Next, HB 1100 goes to the Colorado Senate, where it is sponsored by Sen. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo.

Off the Radar
Colorado health care consumers suffered another legislative setback on Wednesday after the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee killed SB 152 by a vote of 3-2.

SB 152, sponsored by Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, would have required health care facilities and providers to give a written disclosure notice when patients receive care that may include providers who are out of their insurance network. Too often, Coloradans who have had surgery or other services at in-network facilities find themselves on the hook for surprise bills from out-of-network providers who contract with those facilities.

Those bills may go far beyond in-network costs and be in the tens of thousands of dollars. As CCLP’s Health Care Attorney, Bethany Pray, pointed out during her testimony on Wednesday, the legislation called for “facilities, providers and carriers to notify consumers of rights that have been in statute since 2006.” The bill’s failure marks the second time in two sessions that an effort to address out-of-network costs stalled in the Colorado legislature.

While providers and insurers failed to reach a compromise after similar legislation failed last year, Bethany told the committee that consumers shouldn’t have to suffer the financial toll of unanticipated out-of-network charges. “Consumers should not be the losers in a fight between carriers and providers,” she said. “And consumers should have the information they need to exercise the rights they have been given through statute.”

– Bob Mook

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HEALTH:
HEALTH FIRST COLORADO (MEDICAID)

To maintain health and well-being, people of all ages need access to quality health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs for the community. Health First Colorado, the state's Medicaid program, is public health insurance for low-income Coloradans who qualify. The program is funded jointly by a federal-state partnership and is administered by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

Benefits of the program include behavioral health, dental services, emergency care, family planning services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity care, newborn care, outpatient care, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, primary care and rehabilitative services.

In tandem with the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013 - providing hundreds of thousands of adults with incomes less than 133% FPL with health insurance for the first time increasing the health and economic well-being of these Coloradans. Most of the money for newly eligible Medicaid clients has been covered by the federal government, which will gradually decrease its contribution to 90% by 2020.

Other populations eligible for Medicaid include children, who qualify with income up to 142% FPL, pregnant women with household income under 195% FPL, and adults with dependent children with household income under 68% FPL.

Some analyses indicate that Colorado's investment in Medicaid will pay off in the long run by reducing spending on programs for the uninsured.

FOOD SECURITY:
SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (SNAP)

Hunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts people's physical, mental and emotional health and can be a culprit of obesity, depression, acute and chronic illnesses and other preventable medical conditions. Hunger also hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child's overall well-being and academic achievement, but consuming an adult's ability to be a focused, industrious member of society. Even those who have never worried about having enough food experience the ripple effects of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state's economy.

Community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, exist to ensure that families and individuals can purchase groceries, with the average benefit being about $1.40 per meal, per person.

Funding for SNAP comes from the USDA, but the administrative costs are split between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, the lack of investment in a strong, effective SNAP program impedes Colorado's progress in becoming the healthiest state in the nation and providing a better, brighter future for all. Indeed, Colorado ranks 44th in the nation for access to SNAP and lost out on more than $261 million in grocery sales due to a large access gap in SNAP enrollment.

See the Food Assistance (SNAP) Benefit Calculator to get an estimate of your eligibility for food benefits.

FOOD SECURITY:
SPECIAL SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION PROGRAM FOR WOMEN, INFANTS AND CHILDREN (WIC)

Every child deserves the nutritional resources needed to get a healthy start on life both inside and outside the mother's womb. In particular, good nutrition and health care is critical for establishing a strong foundation that could affect a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Likewise, the inability to access good nutrition and health care endangers the very integrity of that foundation.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition information for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Research has shown that WIC has played an important role in improving birth outcomes and containing health care costs, resulting in longer pregnancies, fewer infant deaths, a greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care, improved infant-feeding practices, and immunization rates

Financial Security:
Colorado Works

In building a foundation for self-sufficiency, some Colorado families need some extra tools to ensure they can weather challenging financial circumstances and obtain basic resources to help them and their communities reach their potential.

Colorado Works is Colorado's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides public assistance to families in need. The Colorado Works program is designed to assist participants in becoming self-sufficient by strengthening the economic and social stability of families. The program provides monthly cash assistance and support services to eligible Colorado families.

The program is primarily funded by a federal block grant to the state. Counties also contribute about 20% of the cost.

EARLY LEARNING:
COLORADO CHILD CARE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (CCCAP)

Child care is a must for working families. Along with ensuring that parents can work or obtain job skills training to improve their families' economic security, studies show that quality child care improves children's academic performance, career development and health outcomes.

Yet despite these proven benefits, low-income families often struggle with the cost of child care. Colorado ranks among the top 10 most expensive states in the country for center-based child care. For families with an infant, full-time enrollment at a child care center cost an average of $15,140 a year-or about three-quarters of the total income of a family of three living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) provides child care assistance to parents who are working, searching for employment or participating in training, and parents who are enrolled in the Colorado Works Program and need child care services to support their efforts toward self-sufficiency. Most of the money for CCCAP comes from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. Each county can set their own income eligibility limit as long as it is at or above 165% of the federal poverty level and does not exceed 85% of area median income.

Unfortunately, while the need is growing, only an estimated one-quarter of all eligible children in the state are served by CCCAP. Low reimbursement rates have also resulted in fewer providers willing to accept CCCAP subsidies.