Bill aimed at drug abuse has tough time against Colorado doctors’ orders

Author: Joey Bunch - April 8, 2018 - Updated: April 23, 2018

drug abuse(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Legislators talk a lot about fighting the drug abuse epidemic, but the fate of a bill aimed at helping by connecting doctors writing prescriptions directly to pharmacies is going to down to the wire

House Bill 1279 is supported by the Colorado Retail Council, which includes pharmacies who say it’s a common-sense measure to reduce the number of paper subscriptions on the street. Paper prescriptions can be duplicated or forged. Doctors prescription pads can be stolen, and prescription paper can be ordered online, which also contributes to fraud and the flow of illegally available bills.

The bill is up on the House floor Monday and its supporters told Colorado Politics on Friday it’s too close to call on whether the proposal will make it through. The Colorado Medical Society opposes the bill and wields considerable influence under the gold dome.

Colorado Politics told you about the bill when it was introduced a month ago. You can read more about it by clicking here.

Doctors say it’s bad medicine — too much trouble and too much expense without solid proof that it makes a difference.

They contend the bill is vague about the allowed uses of written prescriptions, which could leave doctor’s licenses in peril for a mistake that results in a citation for unprofessional conduct.

“The hammer is way too much,” Dr. Lynn Parry, a past president of the Colorado Medical Society, told a House committee last month.

She added, “Like we do with all things in medicine, we’re trying to balance benefits versus risks, and this is a bill that produces profound risks for prescribers.”

Dr. Brent Keeler, another past president of the society, said the system would be costly for independent doctors.

SureScripts, the information-technology company that supports e-prescriptions, said a little over half of the Colorado’s 25,628 licensed prescribers already  voluntarily use the online system, which is below the national average of nearly 67 percent. Of the state’s 851 pharmacies, more than 98 percent are already equipped to accept prescriptions electronically.

Keeler said most of the participating physicians, however, are in large medical practices or affiliated with hospitals. Rural doctors and solo practitioners don’t have that luxury or the tens of thousands of dollars it could wind up costing them to change their systems, he said.

Also, Keeler said, if a patient changes his or her mind about where a prescription should be sent, the doctor’s office has to resubmit the prescription to a new pharmacy.

“What about the physician’s time?” he asked the committee. “That has a value, and if you’re going to use the physician’s time, use it only once, please.”

The bill passed on a 7-6 vote in the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee on March 29.

Those supporting it were Reps. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora; Dominique Jackson, D-Denver; Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood; Lois Landgraf, R-Colorado Springs; Jim Wilson, R-Salida; Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo; and Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins.

Ginal is a physician.

The opponents were Reps. Susan Beckman, R-Littleton; Phil Covarrubias, R-Brighton; Edie Hooton, D-Boulder; Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance; Susan Lontine, D-Denver; and Kim Ransom, R-Littleton.

The Medical Society is a significant political player at the Capitol, handing out $316,116 in monetary campaign donations since 2014, mostly to legislators, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.  That’s just the money directly from the association, which doesn’t count donations from individual members or affiliated organizations.

The Retail Council, by comparison, has donated $72,560 since 1994 and nothing since 2014 to sitting lawmakers, records indicate.

While four of the six committee members who sided with the Medical Society collectively received $10,800 in donations, all seven members who supported the e-prescription bill were recipients of its political largesse, totaling $21,700, according to Colorado Politics’ analysis of donor information.

The bill is sponsored by Esgar, along with Sens. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and Kevin Priola, R-Henderson. All three have received Colorado Medical Society campaign donations, as well, records show.

Esgar said Saturday that she’s worked with the Medical Society as best she could. The sponsors put in 15 of the 22 exemptions the society asked for. The bill gives doctors three years to implement the program, Rural doctors, solo practitioners and dentists would have even longer grace periods.

“It’s not like we’re doing this independent of them and not trying to work with them,” she said of doctors who haven’t switched to electronic prescriptions. “This is not at all to punish them or put on burdensome requirements.”

Esgar has worked on the opioid abuse issue extensively at the Capitol, and she’s been a member of the Pueblo Opioid Task Force for four years.

She said the idea came from her pharmacist who saw it as a “quiver” among the arrows to fight a broad, complicated drug abuse problem in Colorado.

Esgar called it a fair and necessary step to make it harder for drug abusers to get drugs, while helping pharmacists and doctors better control the flow of ill-gotten pain pills into communities.

“It’s a piece of the puzzle that gets us to a solution,” she told the House committee two weeks ago.

House Bill 1272 is likely to pass on a voice vote Monday but would then need  a recorded vote within a few days before it could go to the Senate to begin deliberations there.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.