Doctors ask for help with rural health care

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DENVER (AP) - The president-elect of the Colorado Medical Society urged lawmakers Monday to bypass insurance companies and let health care providers directly offer medical coverage to help solve a rural health care crisis.

Dr. Louise McDonald said health insurers, including health maintenance organizations, are pulling out of many rural communities because of state requirements that they have a certain number of providers in every specialty in every county.

The Senate Business, Labor and Finance Committee agreed and unanimously approved Senate Bill 224, which would allow providers like doctors and hospitals to form their own networks to contract directly with employers and provide health coverage, bypassing insurance companies.

"We don't know if this is the ultimate and final solution, but it's a start," McDonald said.

The bill also would allow insurers to bypass some of the requirements for having a specified number of providers in every specialty in every county. It also would encourage the use of "telemedicine," which allows doctors to treat patients from long-distance, using video cameras and other digital diagnostic techniques.

The Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, representing 40 consumer-based groups including farmers, families and small businesses, greeted the plan with muted enthusiasm.

Spokesperson Lorez Meinhold called it a moderate compromise to other proposed measures, including House Bill 1374, which they say was written by the insurance industry "as a vehicle to increase rates, limit competition, and provide fewer services, all with rural consumers paying the tab."

The group also opposed Senate Bill 30, killed earlier in the session.

Both Republican bills contained provisions designed to make it easier for insurers to set up provider networks in rural areas, and would have allowed insurers more flexibility in setting premium rates for small-business groups.

Donald Johnson, publisher of a newsletter for hospitals, said Senate Bill 224 also would do little to solve the rural health care crisis. He said it would make rural health care more expensive and less accessible.

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