Colorado Editorial Roundup
August 1, 2016
Climate change is a way of life in Colo.
Many years ago, Colorado residents would be able to boast to their friends and family across the country about how they didn't need air conditioners because of the temperate climate in the state.
Almost every school was built without one, in fact.
Unfortunately, those days are long past, and now the data back up the perception of how much hotter it's getting along the Front Range.
According to the advocacy group Climate Central, Northern Colorado cities are seeing the effects of climate change through increases not only in the high temperatures recorded in the summer, but also in the humidity associated with the summer climate. No longer can residents pass it off as merely "a dry heat."
Using temperature data recorded since the 1970s, researchers found that Greeley was No. 4 in the country for adding the most number of days when the high temperature surpassed 90 degrees. The Weld County seat has had on average 24 additional 90-degree-plus days — nearly a month's worth — and Fort Collins has had 15 more such days. Greeley was also in the top 10 of cities with more high temperature days greater than 100 degrees, with eight.
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For humidity, Boulder was No. 3 in the nation for its increase. On average, the dew point has been 6 degrees higher in the summer since the 1970s, which makes the days feel steamier and nights slower to cool off.
Unfortunately, the changes show no sign of slowing down.
Public officials will have to take note of the increasing heat and humidity in Northern Colorado. Already, new schools are being built with air conditioning, and the costs of retrofitting those without have been hefty. Beyond that, however, municipalities will have to be on the lookout for the health of its older residents who might be living in older houses without effective cooling systems. Cooling shelters should be as much a part of emergency planning as warm-weather shelters are in the winter.
New residents from California or Texas might not realize that Colorado was once a haven because of its relatively cool summertime weather. The urban corridor of Northern Colorado can no longer make that boast.
The (Loveland) Reporter-Herald, July 23
The benefits of the Rocky Mountain Health Plans acquisition
Rocky Mountain Health Plans will continue to operate as the independent Rocky we know, but now with the financial stability that comes from partnering with one of the largest companies in the world.
That's terrific news. By all indications, UnitedHealthcare acquired RMHP not to dismantle it and absorb its customers and employees, but to learn from what Rocky does very well — innovate and build strong relationships with physicians, hospitals and health care partners.
Founded in 1974 as an independent, not-for-profit health insurance provider, RMHP's mission was always putting people before profits. UnitedHealthcare is a for-profit company, but its mission statement squares remarkably with that of Rocky's.
In fact, United Healthcare's considerable clout and access to capital should be beneficial to RMHP customers. UnitedHealthcare will bring some high-wattage health care tools to western Colorado providers that should improve health outcomes for this entire region. Adding United's technological wherewithal to RMHP's long-standing tradition of collaborating with multiple stakeholders could meaningfully transform care delivery.
Further, RMHP suddenly has an 800-pound gorilla behind it that should enhance its negotiating position and allow it to weather the roughest regulatory seas Congress can muster.
As part of the transaction, UnitedHealthcare will pour an extraordinary sum of money into a foundation that will be controlled by a community board for the benefit of western Colorado and rural Colorado. Since RMHP is a not-for-profit organization, the foundation endowment roughly equates to Rocky's value as a company.
The financial prowess of the foundation — which will not be finally determined until the closing on December 31, 2016 — brings a game-changing sum of money to the table. While the foundation will focus primarily on western Colorado health care issues, its potential for general community benefit is significant.
RMHP's local management and workforce will remain in place, which should preserve the company's unique culture. RMHP has long tried to topple "silos" of care by pushing for better integration and information-sharing among providers, payers and agencies. Integrating behavioral health and primary care is part of "the special sauce" that made RMHP attractive to a buyer.
Hopefully, through the acquisition (and some regulatory tweaks from Congress), RMHP can regain its financial footing to re-enter the individual health plan market statewide. The Division of Insurance earlier this year announced that several companies had stopped offering individual (non-employer) plans as they grappled with a still-emerging market that materialized as a consequence of the Affordable Care Act.
RMHP reduced its individual plans in 2017, offering them only in Mesa County and only through its Monument Health affiliate — a partnership with Primary Care Partners and St. Mary's Hospital.
The bottom line is that nothing is really going to change for customers, but there's considerable potential for improvement. We're heartened to hear that UnitedHealthcare thinks enough of RMHP not to tinker with the status quo.
The company has been recognized for continuously improving the quality of care and services provided to members. With the resources of an insurance giant at its back, RMHP is poised continue that trend.
The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, July 26
State needs to improve infrastructure
Last week the organizers of Colorado Priorities, an effort to encourage Colorado voters to add additional funding to schools, roads and mental health and senior services, called a halt to their petition signature gathering. They were in the midst of acquiring the necessary signatures to put the funding question on the November ballot.
The initiative would not have been to raise existing tax rates, nor to establish any new taxes. The funding for these specific categories — schools, roads, mental health and senior services — would have come from state tax revenue that exceeds the TABOR formula of population increase plus inflation, and which then has to be returned to taxpayers. TABOR sets spending limits, and Colorado is in that TABOR-excess position right now with taxpayers due to receive an average credit of something like $30 in the first year. That amount will increase in the following year, but not excessively.
Colorado Priorities would have removed that cap on TABOR and allowed that revenue excess to go to those specific needs.
Colorado is one of the top five states with the strongest economic recovery since the recession of 2008-09. The state is also a leader in population growth, with high-tech companies in multiple fields opening and expanding in the state. It is not difficult to imagine why: blue skies, cool nights and multiple forms of recreation on the state's mountains and rivers.
Not all of Colorado is sharing in this economic growth by any means, but to some extent, prosperity along the northern Interstate 25 corridor helps improve lifestyles elsewhere. State revenues make possible facilities and operations that could not be solely funded locally.
But, back to the state's enviable economic and population growth. The attraction of blue skies and river rafting only go so far. There have to be adequate roads and schools for the new arrivals and support for those in higher age brackets. So, too, additional mental health support is needed across all ages. Continued shortfall in those areas — Colorado's road conditions earn low scores partially because the gas tax hasn't changed for 22 years, and the state's funding for pre K-12 and higher education are among the lowest in the nation — is certain to eventually erode Colorado's appeal to new employers and employees. Selfishly, an increasing state population without an infrastructure to match can only make life less enjoyable for those of us already here.
In ending its signature gathering, Colorado Priorities' leaders cited resources, a long November ballot which in some locations will contain local tax questions, and the current political climate. Those factors are understandable. But something will have to change or Colorado's bloom will fade. Only for a short term can Coloradans enjoy benefits without making needed investments, and many would say that time is already past.
The Durango Herald, July 24
How much weed is too much?
It would be impossible to argue these days in Colorado that patients who use medical marijuana aren't getting a pretty good deal.
As in the earliest days of legalization, most Coloradans are comfortable giving patients or their caregivers the right to grow several plants. For years now, dispensaries catering to patients have been plentiful, as are a variety of products intended to address particular ailments and issues. And the state doesn't collect a sin tax on medical marijuana patients.
So it strikes us as unreasonable and irresponsible to believe that a single patient would need access to 75 cannabis plants or more at any one time.
No wonder, then, the state Medical Board last week took action against four doctors who officials say recommended grows of at least 75 plants to more than 1,500 patients. As The Denver Post's John Ingold reports, it's the first time the board has taken action against doctors for allegedly over-recommending grows of this size, though we wonder why.
Yes, the state acted too hastily in suspending the doctors without due process. Last week, a judge temporarily blocked the suspensions of the doctors' licenses. Denver District Judge Ross Buchanan wisely noted that if the punishments are the first of their kind, the doctors in question should have had time to defend themselves against the claims.
But to the larger point: Why so much weed? Some patients and their advocates argue that using marijuana over time leads to greater tolerance levels, and some kinds of delivery systems for THC and cannabinoids — like edibles, oils and concentrates — require far more of the devil's lettuce to make than what you would roll up in a joint or pack in a pipe or vaporizer.
Marijuana harvests are conducted every three to four months, depending on the strain, and industry experts peg the retail value of a single plant at about $1,000. We might not be medical professionals, but we find it unimaginable that a single patient could have such a tolerance or such complicated cooking processes to necessitate the retail equivalent of $225,000 to $300,000 worth of dope a year.
We'd also be dopes to believe that no one with that amount of marijuana would ever be tempted to engage in black-market or underground sales.
The apparent abuse might not appear great as a percentage of the whole. The bulk of the more than 106,000 licensed medical marijuana patients in Colorado — 86 percent — are recommended to grow the six plants we've come to consider as normal under the law. But the potential for black-market temptation is significant, and all the more so if you drill down into the larger picture of grow recommendations. State records current through the end of May show that 478 patients have recommendations for more than 75 plants. Another 1,324 patients have permission to grow between 50 to 75 plants. More than 2,200 have been recommended to grow between 26 and 50 plants.
The state is correct to worry about excessive grows. Its laws are more than liberal toward marijuana users, and the risk to harming the public's good will that exists if thousands of people are allowed to privately grow large numbers of plants is too great.
The Denver Post, July 26