Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is likely to veto a bill meant to limit opioid prescriptions — and, thus, to curb future opioid addiction and overdose cases — according to the bill’s sponsors.
A Polis spokesman wouldn’t confirm Monday whether a veto is coming, but the governor did make clear in an April 1 letter to lawmakers that he would not sign any more insurance mandates in 2020, “except where there is an urgent need for additional benefits related to COVID-19.” Insurance mandates that might reduce costs in the long term can be costlier in the short term and reduce accessibility of coverage, Polis wrote in the letter.
The latest mandate he’s considering vetoing, House Bill 1085, seeks to steer patients from opioids to alternate treatment providers by requiring insurance companies to cover visits to occupational therapists, chiropractors and acupuncturists. The bill, which passed both chambers of the legislature, sits before Polis at a time when experts worry the existing opioid crisis could get worse.
State Rep. Chris Kennedy, a lead sponsor of the bill, said Polis told him he thinks HB-1085 is, on its own, a good idea.
“He bent over backwards to express support for the bill and the goals, and said that in a vacuum there’s no question he’d support it,” said Kennedy, who spoke at length with the governor by phone.
But that doesn’t mean Polis will support the bill.
“He was clearly trying to set me up for disappointment,” Kennedy said. “… He expressed a willingness to reconsider, so I don’t know that it’s 100% decided that he’s going to veto it, but I got a pretty clear indication.”
State Sen. Faith Winter got the same message.
“We keep sending them information, but it seems to be unpersuasive,” she said.
Supporters of the bill believe it’s needed to prevent addiction and death in a state where heroin addiction has skyrocketed and opioid overdoses quadrupled in a 20-year period. But they also see it as a way to save on health care costs in the future.
“The investment in preventive care saves costs over the long term, and saves lives,” Kennedy said. “We know that the costs of dealing with someone going through opioid addiction are really high, and that when someone ends up in the emergency room the costs are really high, not to mention that they could lose their lives.”
Colorado’s insurance industry registered officially as neutral on this bill, but only after extensive conversations with Kennedy. Amanda Massey, executive director of the Colorado Association of Health Plans, the state’s trade association for health insurance companies, echoed the governor’s concerns.
“There is always going to be a cost when they expand coverage,” Massey said.
Said Winter, “If we’re only going to talk about costs, and I don’t think we should, having people addicted to opioids is very expensive.”
Polis, in his second year as governor, has vetoed no bills in 2020 after vetoing five in 2019. He has until July 15 to make a decision on the opioids bill.