Mid-Session Legislative Update: Retirement, Health Care, Paid Family & Medical Leave

Believe it or not, the 2020 legislative session is approaching the midpoint. While headlines have been passing by fast and furiously, it is important to take stock of what has happened and what is on deck for the second half of the session. 

The Bell Policy Center has been laser focused on moving Colorado forward toward greater economic mobility. That means addressing our upside-down tax code, lowering barriers to important programs — like health care, retirement savings, child care, paid family and medical leave, and higher education — and working towards an equitable and adequate budget that helps all Coloradans. 

Because there are so many pressing issues our legislature is focusing on this session, we will have multiple blogs focusing on specific pieces of legislation, as well as broader topics, in front of legislators. 

This part will focus on the crucial benefits that have become unavailable to too many Coloradans. A significant impediment to economic mobility is workplaces have not kept pace with a changing economy, and things that used to be common for workers — health insurance, retirement savings, and paid family and medical leave — have become out of reach.

To read Part 1 of the series on fiscal, tax, and budget issues, click here. For Part 3 on education issues, click here.


Workplace retirement plans are a critical tool for families to adequately prepare for retirement. Unfortunately, nearly 1 million private sector employees in Colorado don’t have access to retirement plans at work. Inadequate retirement savings has a direct cost to taxpayers: By recent estimates, doing nothing to address this retirement crisis could cost the state over $10 billion in the next fifteen years.

Last year, the Financial Equity Coalition started efforts to pass a bill establishing a Colorado Secure Savings Plan Board. The Board recently released its final report, formally recommending a state-facilitated auto-IRA program and the adoption of a statewide coordinated approach to financial education. SB20-200 is a bill to implement the recommendations.

Auto-IRA programs provide work-based access to retirement savings with automatic enrollment with the choice to opt out; contributions automatically made through payroll deduction; individual retirement accounts (IRAs); simple, inexpensive investment options; and flexible participation. 

Health Care

Affordable and accessible health care is essential for economic mobility and security. The absence of quality care has very real implications for our communities, and can widen generational health and financial disparities. Unfortunately, data shows us many Coloradans lack affordable care options. Surveys show 1 in 3 Coloradans forgo medical treatment because of the high cost, and residents in 22 counties only have access to one insurance option on the private market.

The Bell understands the need to expand quality health care options across our state. This is why we’re excited to support HB20-1349, legislation to create the Colorado Affordable Public Option. Informed by months of public input, this carefully crafted, Colorado-specific plan is designed to expand choice in the individual market and bring down premium costs for these consumers by an average of between nine and 18 percent. To do this, the bill relies upon public-private partnerships to limit hospital and insurance profits and put money back in the pockets of individual Coloradans. We’re excited to be part of the growing movement to ensure more Coloradans have access to the health care they need, and bring needed financial relief to thousands of families across our state.

Paid Family & Medical Leave

The Bell Policy Center has been committed to creating a strong paid family and medical leave program in Colorado for years. Unequivocally, paid leave promotes economic mobility, stability, and opportunity for parents, unpaid caregivers of older adults, and those who need time off to care for their own medical needs. As we’ve studied the growing paid leave movement, it’s hard to ignore almost every state-based paid family and medical leave program relies upon a social insurance structure. This model has proven itself not only financially sustainable and affordable, but also good for workers and businesses.

While the Bell believes a social insurance model is the most proven and effective approach to ensuring paid leave in Colorado, we remain committed to assisting policymakers find a suitable alternative. While not all alternatives are created equal, we believe there are paths to creating a viable solution that supports Colorado workers and their families. We believe any alternative should be evaluated based upon:

  • Affordability: A universal paid family and medical leave benefit doesn’t have to be expensive. Whether through a social insurance program or a robust, community-rated private market, shared program costs can be relatively minimal. Many other state-based programs have premiums set near 1 percent of worker wages.
  • Long-term stability: State-based paid leave programs have successfully operated in the United States for decades, and we know they can be a sustainable and meaningful way to offer benefits. Any new Colorado program should have a strong foundation to support workers and businesses for years to come.
  • Worker access: As with any quality benefit, workers must both know about and feel safe accessing paid leave. Without these measures, those most in need of the benefit won’t use it.

A strong paid family and medical leave program is essential for the health and well-being of our state, and the Bell remains committed to ensuring workers throughout Colorado have access to the benefits they need to care for their own health and the health of their loved ones.