Insurance costs forcing many to go without

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By JOSH NICHOLS

Daily Press writer

Coloradans spend nearly $14 billion annually on health expenditures, yet one in seven people are uninsured.

Some say the reason for the high number of people uninsured is simple insurance is expensive.

"There is a large class of people in this state who can't afford $300 to $600 a month," said Cory Leiker, owner of Accucomp Accounting.

She identified those who earn between $16,000 and $32,000 annually as the group who might not insured. They are the people who make too much to qualify for Medicaid or the Children's Health Plan Plus (CHP+), yet don't make enough money to pay high monthly insurance bills.

"The only ones who are insured are those who work for large corporations," she said. "We're lucky we have a number of large companies in Northwest Colorado."

People who work for large businesses are covered, but Leiker said you also have a large population in Craig that work in the service industry and whose employers don't cover health insurance.

Owning a small business, Leiker said she knows how difficult it is for an employer to provide health insurance.

"I couldn't possibly pay my employee's insurance," she said. "It's just too expensive."

Leiker said she sees many of her clients struggling with high insurance costs and would be in favor of the government doing something to help.

"I would like to see fair legislation," she said. "Large corporations should not be the only ones able to provide health insurance."

If a Colorado coalition can convince the right people, health insurance could become available to more people.

By 2007, the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved hopes every Colorado resident has health coverage.

Next month, the coalition will seek further public input on how to ensure affordable health care coverage for all Colorado residents.

A proposed plan, the Healthy Colorado Plan, will be presented to the public at a series of regional meetings throughout the state. The ideas will be presented to policy makers, health care providers, community and business leaders and the general public.

"Based on such a huge annual expenditure, we should be able to provide basic health care coverage for every Coloradan. Instead, there are nearly 700,000 people in this state who are currently uninsured," Gary VanderArk, MD and chairman of the coalition stated in a press release.

Anita Wesley, program manager for health care policy at the Colorado medical society, outlined the three components of the Healthy Colorado Plan.

The first goal is to expand and enhance private and public insurance plans by:

Offering refundable individual tax credits

Expanding eligibility for Medicaid and CHP+

Providing small business tax credits

Filling holes in the safety net to catch people who continue to remain uninsured and show up in emergency rooms

The second goal is to provide low-cost prescription drug coverage for those who don't have or can't afford coverage.

A sliding scale would be set up based on an individual or family's income, Wesley said. Generic drugs would be stressed in the program but are not mandatory.

The costs would be offset by the state.

The third goal is to establish a voluntary universal health program, the Personal Responsibility Option for Colorado (PRO-Colorado).

"Several insurance plans would be offered and employees could choose from a menu of options," Wesley said. "Once an individual is with PRO-Colorado, they can stay with it even if they change jobs. The new employer will be asked to contribute the same amount to PRO-Colorado.

"Our mission is to have everyone with access to affordable healthcare by 2007," Wesley said. "We'll be conducting regional meetings that will be held by the end of October."

The coalition will decide by December if it has a plan it wants to present to the Colorado Legislature, Wesley said.

"We're taking time to study the responses and make sure we've asked the right questions," Wesley said.

She said there was a lot of curiosity in the legislature and that the coalition had been complemented on its process.

She said small businesses continue to struggle, which is why they are searching for a small business tax credit.

Nadine Daszkiewicz, owner of The Kitchen Shop, said speaking from a business owner's perspective, it was difficult to afford insurance.

"As a business owner it's very expensive," she said. "The amount that is tax deductible is going to go up but it's still not 100 percent. It's still hard for a business owner to buy insurance."

No regional meeting has been set in northwest Colorado because Wesley said she was unable to find anyone to organize it.

If anyone is interested, she said, they can call her at (720) 858-6326.

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