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Bipartisan Prescription Could Help Keep CO Hospitals in Business

Rural hospitals in Colorado facing life-threatening budget cuts could see relief from Senate Bill 267. (Getty Images)
Rural hospitals in Colorado facing life-threatening budget cuts could see relief from Senate Bill 267. (Getty Images)
May 10, 2017

DENVER - Colorado lawmakers are one step closer to throwing a lifeline to the state's struggling rural hospitals.

After years of conflict, Republicans and Democrats finally have come to an agreement that separates funding for hospitals from budget limitations under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.

Despite their differences, said Andrea Wilkins, a staff lobbyist with the League of Women Voters, both sides recognized the need to keep hospitals from closing their doors.

"We're living in such a hyper-partisan era," Wilkins said. "The bipartisan attempts to find a solution to some of the funding challenges that the state's facing, particularly in rural areas, was encouraging."

Senate Bill 267 would reclassify the state's hospital provider-fee program as a standalone enterprise, which means the state can tap matching federal dollars to help hospitals care for Colorado's poorest residents.

Without a new classification, Wilkins said, TABOR restrictions would force the state to choose between helping hospitals or funding schools, roads and other pressing needs.

A final vote is expected in the House today.

Wilkins said politicians ultimately came together after facing the reality that some areas of the state were at risk of losing the only health centers within hundreds of miles. In parts of Colorado, she added, hospitals are the region's largest employers.

"So, to see those hospitals close down because of a lack of funding really kind of produces a double problem," Wilkins said, "in terms of lack of care and a reduction in jobs in some areas."

The omnibus spending bill also would leverage state-owned buildings to fund nearly $2 billion in road construction, and give a one-time infusion of $30 million to the state's K-12 schools.

The bill's text is online at leg.colorado.gov.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO