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AARP Colorado makes big impact in 2013 legislative session

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Senior Services in Colorado will get an additional $4 million for the first time in years, deregulation of telephone – including Internet phone and land-line service – was stopped, voting for older adults will be easier, and biosimilars are going to need more than the word of two drug companies to prove they are safe for consumers.

Those issues and more make up AARP Colorado’s accomplishments this 2013 legislative season. The session wrapped up May 8 and Advocacy Director Kelli Fritts and her band of more than 20 legislative advocates ended it with many “wins” to celebrate.

“I don't think I can convey how amazing this session has been for consumers,” said Morie Smile, AARP State Director. “No one else was fighting some of these issues. I can’t thank our wonderful, dedicated and off-the-charts smart advocate volunteers enough for the work they have done this year. It’s been an incredible ride.”

Among the battles won is the passage of Senate Bill 13-127. The bill called for additional funding of senior services, including Meals on Wheels, transportation and ombudsman services that help keep seniors in their homes and living independently.

Gov. John Hickenlooper had said he would give a one-time increase of $2 million toward such services. Sorely underfunded, any increase to the Older Coloradans Fund would be useful. But that wasn’t enough for AARP, especially after years of stagnant funding and budget cuts.

“We put together a coalition, found sponsors to introduce SB 127, and we went for $12 million over three years for senior services,” Fritts said. “We didn’t get that much, but we did get $4 million.”

That’s just the beginning. AARP Colorado will return next year to fight for another increase. Jean Nofles, lead advocate on the bill, said the additional funding is a significant step forward in ensuring that these vital services will be available for all older Coloradans.

“Senate bill 127 was a turning point for the members of the Colorado Legislature, in that they began to understand the need for Coloradans to support the senior population in the state; and not push them over the edge toward Medicaid,” said Linda Worrell, AARP co-lead advocate on the bill.

Another AARP Colorado accomplishment is the demise of House Bill 13-1255 and Senate Bill 13-287. These bills were designed to deregulate telephone service – take away any and all possible future local oversight of communications companies – and let consumers fend for themselves against big Telcos. AARP advocates said that wasn’t good enough.

Fritts said the issue comes up every year, and AARP was the only group registered in opposition of these bills. It was a dramatic session, in which HB 1255 passed with all yes votes in the House, but came to a halt in the Senate with the introduction of SB 287. This was an opportunity for AARP Colorado advocates to hit SB 287 hard in the Senate. Both bills died on the vine. Smile said she gives a lot of credit to AARP Executive Council Member and utility expert Steve Merrill. Merrill, who has an impressive background in the utility industry, was the lead advocate on both bills.

“Overall, the legislation was not necessary and for the bills to fail, that’s good for the consumers,” Merrill said.

The hardest-fought and sweetest win for AARP Colorado is the failure of House Bill 13-1121. Also known as the biosimilar bill, HB 1121 had dozens of lobbyists registered to represent nearly 430 entities, either in support, opposition, or as monitors of this bill that would have allowed the release of untested biosimilar drugs, which are similar, but not the same as regularly-prescribed medication.

Early on, AARP advocates were concerned about the safety of the drugs because they are not FDA approved. AARP advocate, Dr. Shirley Leow, a retired PhRMA scientist, dug in and found cause for concern.

“Killing the biosimilar bill was one of the greatest joys ever,” Fritts said. “It had so much support from leadership on both sides of the isle, and things got emotional, too, as some consumer groups backed he bill because they believed the sponsors who promised cheaper drugs.”

Other great victories include the failure of two PERA bills, the demise of a bill that sought to kill the health insurance exchange, the passage of Medicaid expansion, the creation of mandatory reporting for at-risk adults, and the Colorado break-through voters’ bill, which will allow voters to register prior to voting, among other benefits.

Although AARP Colorado pointed out the work of its lead volunteers on the most urgent bills of the 2013 session, all advocates made a difference, Smile said.

“Every, single person was instrumental in success of the group this year, and our thanks go out to all our advocates, other volunteers who support them, and the AARP staff, both in-state and at the national level,” she said.

AARP legislative advocates are: Eula Adams, Bev Agnew, Jack Beckner, Glenn Cooper, Kathleen Flynn, Greg Glischinski, Shirley Leow, Carol Pace, Steve Merrill, Ben Moultrie, Jean Nofles, Ann Norton, Teresa Reed, Jill Sanford, AW Schnellbacher, Richard Stevens, Stan Ulrich, Dennis Valentine, Fred Wilhoft and Linda Worrell.

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