Governor joins state lawmakers to introduce bills aimed at cutting health care costs

medical debt
Posted at 7:13 PM, Mar 02, 2023

DENVER — Governor Jared Polis joined Colorado Democratic lawmakers Wednesday to introduce a series of bills aimed at cutting health care costs.

Prescription dispensing machines

These days, it’s easy to get just about anything from a vending machine — from water to candy, money to coffee, and in Colorado, even marijuana. It’s with that spirit of abundance and convenience in mind that Colorado lawmakers have introduced a bill to establish automated dispensing machines for prescription medications.

House Bill 23-1195 would authorize automated pharmacy dispensing systems in the state. It’s an idea Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, is really excited about because she believes it could solve a lot of problems for families.

“You could fill new prescriptions, or you could pick up regular prescriptions that you have that you have waiting for you after work,” Michaelson Jenet said.

The machines would be pre-stocked with medication based on the location and needs within the community.

“The machine would be pre-stocked with typical drugs for the area and for the community. So if there's a high prevalence of diabetes, there might be a higher stock of diabetes medication,” Michaelson Jenet said.

Machines inside hospitals or medical clinics, meanwhile, might feature more pain medications.

Patients would show up with their prescription, speak with a pharmacist who would appear on the machine remotely to walk them through the medication, check their insurance and payment options and answer questions, and then have their prescription filled.

That same pharmacist would be able to appear remotely on a dispensing machine in Sterling one minute and Aurora the next. Michaelson Jenet hopes the bill can also help in pharmacy deserts in rural areas of the state, but also with families who can’t make it to the pharmacy during their open hours.

“We look at places like Globeville-Swansea, where they don't have a pharmacy, and we could put a pharmacy in a health clinic in Globeville-Swansea and people can get their medication right there where they are without having to take multiple buses,” Michaelson Jenet said. “And the same goes for rural Colorado, where people often have to travel long distances to get to a pharmacy.”

The idea is not totally new. Several states across the country have already legalized similar systems, including Illinois, California, Arizona and Florida.

InstyMeds is a company based out of Minnesota that uses automated machines to dispense medications. To date, it has filled nearly five million prescriptions.

“We have all the pre-packaged medication that is in the dispenser that has been dispensed, prints a label on it, and it's given to the patient right there,” said Justin Arseneau, a salesperson with InstyMeds.

Arseneau says the company focuses primarily on rural areas and patients can access their medications at all hours of the day. He sees it like an ATM or a grocery store check-out, where customers can help themselves.

InstyMeds found that the easier the medications are to access, the higher likelihood a patient is to fill it.

Colorado’s dispensing machines would be slightly different. They would require patients to have a video interaction with the pharmacist before receiving the medication.

An amendment was also added to the bill so that the vending machines would not function when pharmacy locations with an in-person option are open so they wouldn’t overlap.

Medical debt

Another medical bill aims to change the way medical debt is viewed on consumer reports in the state.

House Bill 23-1126 would prohibit consumer reporting agencies from including medical debt on a person’s credit report.

“You still owe this medical debt. You incurred the debt, and it's your debt. However, it should not be like a noose around your neck everywhere you go,” said Rep. Naquetta Ricks, D-Aurora.

Right now, more than 700,000 people in the state are saddled with medical debt, owing more than $1.3 billion in all.

Ricks says the dings on a person’s credit report from medical debt can affect everything from their ability to get a loan to buying a home or car, even the ability to start a new business or find job prospects.

“You're trying to fight for your life, but you're also still trying to move on with your life and be a productive citizen. And still, medical debt follows you,” Ricks said.

The Colorado Hospital Association, Mental Health Colorado and Healthier Colorado are among the major health organizations supporting the bill. However, in committee hearings and during floor debates, critics argued that while the medical debt doesn’t mean someone is financially irresponsible, it could serve as an important indicator to lenders of a person’s ability to pay their bills.

The bill already passed the Colorado House and is now on its way to the Senate. While it does have a Republican cosponsor, it does not have widespread bipartisan support.

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