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Lawmakers address health care, tribal protections during end-of-session review in Durango

Rep. Barbara McLachlan and Sen. Cleave Simpson drop by library for Q&A with residents
Rep. Barbara McLachlan and Sen. Cleave Simpson attended a legislative wrap-up Saturday at the Durango Public Library. Health care, agriculture and education were just a few of the topics discussed in front of an audience of about 60 people. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

Colorado lawmakers Barbara McLachlan and Cleave Simpson addressed school funding, health care and annexations during a legislative wrap-up held Saturday in Durango

More specifically, they addressed a contract dispute between CommonSpirit Health and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, which temporarily upset insurance coverage for thousands of Durango and La Plata County workers, and the city of Durango’s strained relationship with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

In a question-and-answer session moderated by the League of Women Voters of La Plata County, the legislators spoke about the bills for which they are most proud, which included these related to agriculture, education and the environment.

Rep. McLachlan reflected on her time in the Colorado House of Representatives and serving as the House Education Committee chair for six years. She said she is inching closer to the end of her final term, which ends Jan. 8, 2025.

Sen. Simpson is seeking reelection to continue representing his constituents in Colorado District 6, which covers Alamosa, Archuleta, Conejos, Costilla, Dolores, La Plata, Mineral, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray, Rio Grande, Saguache, San Juan and San Miguel counties.

McLachlan said the Legislature successfully eliminated the budget stabilization factor this year, which should clear the way for schools to receive billions of dollars in the 2024-25 school year, but that doesn’t mean schools are now fully funded.

Wealthier school districts benefited more from the budget stabilization factor than rural schools. With the new funding, rural schools will be able to hire new teachers and start new programs, she said.

McLachlan said she is proud of Animas High School students who led advocacy efforts to draft and pass House Bill 1003 which extends policies allowing schools and staff to maintain and administer Narcan, which can treat narcotic overdoses.

About 60 people showed up for the Legislative Wrap-Up at the Durango Public Library.

McLachlan, who is a Democrat, said she and Simpson, a Republican, enjoy the bipartisan outings because at the end of the day, it is not about the parties but about the people.

Durango and La Plata County residents filled up an events room at Durango Public Library on Saturday to hear from Colorado legislators Rep. Barbara McLachlan and Sen. Cleave Simpson on Saturday. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

When asked what became of a proposed study to look into the feasibility of a single-payer health care system, which attendees noted would have spared Durangoans and Coloradans from the fear and uncertainty stoked by Anthem’s and CommonSpirit’s negotiations over an insurance contract, Simspson said he’s always been skeptical of a single-payer system, but he’s open to listening and learning from others.

He said he lived in Australia for several years and in his experience, single-payer systems come with longer wait times for treatments. But after listening to different people’s opinions, he said he has learned more about people’s needs and how health care is failing them. He just hasn’t had the chance to vote on it either way.

Simpson said he doesn’t know why the proposed study into the feasibility of a single-payer system hasn’t gotten off the ground, but he is certain there are politics at play.

“I was very clear where I thought that policy was to begin with, but I truly do approach every one of these with an open mind and engagement to see, ‘Am I missing something?’” he said. “Now, we just never got to that point where I was in a position to vote for or against that.”

Some residents wanted to know how the Colorado Legislature can prevent another episode like the Anthem/CommonSpirit disagreement from impacting insured patients.

McLachlan said she doesn’t have an answer.

“I do know the commissioner of insurance was very, very involved in this,” she said.

Simpson said more information about the negotiations between the insurance and health care giants could prove helpful to understand how the dispute started and how it could be prevented in the future.

On Durango’s interest in annexing private property within the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s outer boundaries, Simpson said legislation the tribe is pursuing to secure its right to approve or reject annexations occurring within its lands is more of an affirmation of federal laws and treaties with the tribe already on the books.

“The tribe felt it was really important to have (the proposed legislation) and so I supported it and followed that position that it was an affirmation of their jurisdictional authority based on federal policy and treaty language,” he said.

The nuance of the issue concerns private property owners within the reservation and whether the tribe’s sovereignty extends to their private land.

He said the city of Durango, the tribe and private property owners each have their sides to the story, and tensions between the tribe and the city probably shouldn’t have reached a boiling point to begin with.

Colorado Senate Bill 24-193, the proposed legislation that if enacted into law would reaffirm tribes’ protection from unauthorized land annexations, took Simpson by surprise and surpassed local public servants’ expectations when it passed with unanimous support in the state House and Senate, Simpson said.

Gov. Jared Polis has yet to sign the bill into law, although he has a fat stack of bills requiring his signature to be enacted, McLachlan said.


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