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August 3, 2023

New Bipartisan Laws Save Coloradans Money on Prescription Drugs

Five new laws to improve access and reduce the cost of prescription drugs go into effect August 7

DENVER, CO - On August 7, five laws to save Coloradans money on prescription drugs go into effect. The new laws create pharmacy dispensing machines, allow psychologists to prescribe certain mental health medications, expand access to contraception, improve oversight of Pharmacy Benefit Managers to reduce prescription drug costs, and expand the Prescription Drug Affordability Board to lower out-of-pocket costs.

“Transportation, work hours, and other barriers often make it difficult to access prescription medication due to typical pharmacy hours,” said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, sponsor of HB23-1195. “With the implementation of our new law, Coloradans will be able to access their essential medication through pharmacist-monitored dispensing machines on a timeline that works for their busy schedule.”

“Coloradans who depend on prescription medications can’t always make it to a pharmacy to pick up their drugs during business hours,” said Senator Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, sponsor of HB23-1195. “This new law will make it easier for Coloradans to get medications they need by removing unnecessary roadblocks and will help more people access their prescriptions without compromising important pharmaceutical safeguards.”

HB23-1195, also sponsored by Republican Representative Matt Soper and Republican Senator Barbara Kirkmeyer, allows pharmacies to operate automated prescription dispensing machines so patients can access their medication outside of regular pharmacy business hours. The machines would only be placed in pharmacy-licensed locations and would be live monitored to prevent theft. The medication would be stocked in the machine and patients would be able to discuss the prescription with a live remote pharmacist.

“When someone is in a mental health crisis, they need to be able to quickly access remedies that protect themselves from harm, but getting a doctor’s appointment can often take weeks,” said Rep. Judy Amabile, D-Boulder, sponsor of HB23-1071. “By allowing psychologists to undergo additional training to be able to prescribe certain mental health medications, we’re reducing costs for patients and helping them get the care they need when they need it.”

“Across the state, we are seeing a prolonged mental health crisis, particularly among our youth," said President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, sponsor of HB23-1071. “Every day, Coloradans battling mental health struggles face prohibitively long wait times to receive help and a lack of providers who can prescribe them with medication they need, only worsening our crisis. Expanding prescriptive authority to specially trained psychologists will help Coloradans access the life-saving medications that they need on a timeline that makes sense.”

HB23-1071, also sponsored by Republican Representative Mary Bradfield and Republican Senator Cleave Simpson, establishes rigorous standards and education requirements that a psychologist must undertake before being able to prescribe medication to treat mental health illnesses. Starting August 7, psychologists can begin the process to obtain their required education, training, and certificates in order to begin prescribing certain mental health medications.

Currently, if medication is part of the patient’s care plan, the patient must meet with a doctor or psychiatrist to have the prescription issued. Patients often struggle to find an available psychiatrist within their insurance network and few of only 800 psychiatrists across Colorado accept Medicaid, forcing patients to choose between large out-of-pocket costs or waiting months for the medication they need. Allowing psychologists limited prescribing authority to provide immediate access to medication can save the patient time and money.

Psychologists work closely with their patients to determine how to best address their mental health needs. When patients meet with a doctor or psychiatrist, it’s often their first time discussing their mental health issues and telehealth appointments can make it difficult to accurately assess the patient’s condition. Allowing licensed psychologists who meet monthly or even more frequently with patients will streamline access to effective health care and lead to more appropriate care.

“No one should have to ask for permission every month from their insurance company to not get pregnant,” said Senator Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, sponsor of SB23-284. “I spoke with a woman during the election who spends more than an hour on the phone every month just getting her birth control prescription refilled. That's absurd. Our new law protects the freedom of Coloradans to make health care choices on their own timeline.”

“Whether folks live in rural areas or work odd hours, trips to the pharmacy can be inconvenient and difficult to make,” said Senator Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, sponsor of SB23-284. “With SB23-284, we’re tightening up restrictions so insurance companies and PBMs can’t skirt our laws, ensuring patients can access 12 months of birth control. This new law will expand and improve access to reproductive health care across Colorado.”

Starting on August 7, SB23-284 requires both insurance plans and Pharmacy Benefit Management firms (PBMs) to cover a year's supply of contraception, which can be dispensed at one time or in smaller amounts if requested. SB23-284 builds off HB17-1186, a bipartisan bill that allowed Coloradans to access 12 months of birth control. However, legal loopholes have allowed insurers and PBMs to not comply with the law. SB23-284 ties up loose ends, and ensures that Coloradans can easily access a twelve-month supply of contraceptives using their medical insurance.

Research shows that dispensing one to three months of birth control at a time increases the likelihood of contraceptive discontinuation and can make it harder for people to plan their pregnancies. Additionally, access to 12 months of birth control can prevent unplanned pregnancies.

“Barriers to receiving medication, like contraceptives and prescription drugs, make it harder for Coloradans to receive the remedies they need to meet their health care needs,” said Rep. Iman Jodeh, D-Aurora, sponsor of SB23-284 and HB23-1227. “With our new laws going into effect soon, we can save Coloradans money on prescription costs and require insurance coverage for 12 months of contraception, expanding access to effective reproductive health care.”

“Our new law cracks down on players in the health care industry that are not acting in accordance with the cost-saving measures that Colorado Democrats have fought for to save you money on your medication,” said Rep. David Ortiz, D-Littleton, HB23-1227. “Affordable access to medication keeps our communities healthy and thriving. We now have the tools to hold Pharmacy Benefit Managers accountable, which will improve prescription accessibility and cut down on medication costs.”

Starting on August 7, HB23-1227 ensures that Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBM) follow through on critical cost savings reforms that the legislature has passed in recent years to save consumers money. This law provides the Division of Insurance (DOI) with more direct oversight over PBMs by requiring them to register and specifying that the DOI has the ability to enforce those reforms.

“As a pharmacist I know firsthand how critical it is for Coloradans to be able to afford their prescription drugs, but too many of our families are still getting squeezed by high costs of medication,” said Senator Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, sponsor of HB23-1227 and HB23-1225. “The new laws taking effect are part of a multi-year effort to save people money on prescription drugs. I’m proud to see how these essential tools will continue to keep Colorado prescription drug prices affordable and save families even more money on their life-saving medications.”

“Every Coloradan deserves access to essential medication at a price they can afford,” said Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy, D-Lakewood, sponsor of HB23-1225. "Too many people ration their medication or skip refills because they can’t cover the cost. The implementation of HB23-1225 will help more Coloradans afford the prescriptions they rely on and put more money back into the pockets of hardworking families.” 

“House Bill 1225 makes important changes that will increase the impact of the Prescription Drug Affordability Board,” said Senator Janet Buckner, D-Aurora, sponsor of HB23-1225. “Too many Colorado families are forced to choose between putting food on the table or paying for life-saving medication, and that has to change. I’m proud to be a part of the effort to continue saving Coloradans money on out-of-pocket prescription drug costs.”

“The Prescription Drug Affordability Board will now be able to implement more cost-saving measures that drive down prescription drug prices to save Colorado patients money,” said Rep. Ruby Dickson, D-Centennial, sponsor of HB23-1225. “I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished this session to save Coloradans money on health care, and this law is one of many steps we’ve taken to ensure that more Coloradans can access affordable, quality health care.”

HB23-1225 increases the effectiveness of the Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB) to help lower out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for Coloradans. In 2021, lawmakers passed the Prescription Drug Affordability Board to evaluate and place upper payment limits on the highest cost prescription drugs. The legislation implemented today will increase the impact of the Prescription Drug Affordability Board to save people money on out of pocket prescription drug costs. It increases the limit on setting no more than 12 Upper Payment Limits (UPLs) per year in the first three years of the PDAB to 18 UPLs, and improves the criteria for selecting drugs for an affordability review.

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