Health care is emerging as a top priority for both Democratic and Republicans at the State Capitol this session, and some of the proposed legislation is already packing hearing rooms.
One of the bills would add autism to a list of conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana. Similar legislation was vetoed by former Gov. John Hickenlooper last year.
But Gov. Jared Polis has already indicated his support for marijuana reform.
Dozens of people showed up at a hearing about the bill, including Margaret Terlaje. She told lawmakers what her family's life was like before she started giving her son medical marijuana.
"He headbangs, punches himself kicks himself sometimes a thousand times a day," Terlaje said. "When we were stationed in Georgia, he had beat his ears so bad he needed surgery twice."
They tried giving him Risperdal and Abilify, the only medicines approved by the Food and Drug Administration for autism.
"Both made him drool," Terlaje said. "They also cause liver problems. Kidney problems. Right before we moved here, he started urinating blood."
The boy's condition qualified him for a medical marijuana prescription. Terlaje said it's changed his personality.
"All he wants to do is cuddle, 24/7, and medical cannabis helped with that extremely," she said.
Terlaje was one of several mothers who testified. But others in the hearing room, like David Downs of the Colorado Medical Society, told lawmakers that cannabis has its risks.
"There's clear evidence that marijuana in developing brains is associated with harm to attention, cognition, execute control, memory, problem solving and other brain issues," he said
Downs urged the 11-member House Health and Insurance Committee to reject the bill. But in the end, committee chair Susan Lontine, D-Denver, voted with five other Democrats and four Republicans to advance the legislation.
"To the parent that said I would rather give my child medical marijuana than watch them beat their head against the wall, for those folks I would be a yes vote," Lontine said.
The committee also approved a bipartisan bill that aims to bring down the costs of health care in rural and mountain communities. Republican Rep. Marc Catlin, of Montrose, is one of its sponsors.
"All four counties I represent are in a situation where there's only one health care plan they can buy into," Catlin said. "I'm not into monopolies. I understand business and all those kind of things, but it does bother me we've only got one we can talk about. And we've got people over there who need insurance. They truly do."
The proposal calls for the state to spend $500,000 to study a public insurance option. Democratic Rep. Dylan Roberts, of Avon, represents Routt and Eagle Counties, which have some of the highest insurance premiums in the state.
"Coloradans deserve more choice, more competition when they are purchasing health insurance so they actually can buy a plan that gives them the peace of mind and the security for themselves and their families they will never go bankrupt because of a health scare," Roberts said.
Rep. Susan Beckman, R-Littleton, was one of two lawmakers to oppose the bill. She was skeptical of the study and whether government needs to intervene.
"Every time government gets involved and puts more money into the system, it gets worse," Beckman said.
The legislation now goes to the appropriations committee to see if there is money in the budget to pay for it.
The third bill heard by the committee was the least controversial measure. It's a bill allowing pharmacists to prescribe chronic condition medications like insulin in emergency situations. It passed unanimously.
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