Medicaid enrollment surges; Northwest Colorado uninsured rates drop but still high, survey shows | CraigDailyPress.com

Medicaid enrollment surges; Northwest Colorado uninsured rates drop but still high, survey shows

The numbers are in: the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has dramatically reduced uninsured rates in Colorado compared to pre-ACA levels in 2013, including in Northwest Colorado.

Data from the Colorado Health Access Survey, released Tuesday, revealed that the uninsured rate in Health Statistics Region 11 — including Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco and Jackson counties — was cut nearly in half in the two-year period.

However, the Northwest Colorado region still leads the state with the highest uninsured rate at 13 percent in 2015, compared to 24.8 percent in 2013.

"In the northwest part of the state, uninsured rates are stubbornly high and have been that way for a while," said Michele Lueck, president of Colorado Health Institute, the organization that conducts the CHAS survey every two years.

Nonetheless, the drop equates to nearly 9,300 people signing up for health insurance during the past two years, something that Lisa Brown, CEO of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, counts as a success.

"It's validating for the amount of work that we've done, and something we really want to celebrate," Brown said. "At the same time, having access to health insurance that helps people have preventative care and necessary care is so important, and we're really committed to continuing to reduce that number."

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With federally qualified community health centers in both Craig and Steamboat Springs, the VNA has been an instrumental partner (alongside local hospitals, private providers and state agencies) in getting Northwest Coloradans enrolled in health coverage.

Statewide, the drop in uninsured rates was even more dramatic, down to 6.7 percent compared to 14.3 percent two years ago.

"…we now have one of the lowest uninsured rates in the country," Susan Birch, executive director of the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, said in a statement. "Now we turn our focus to improving the health of those we serve while getting the most value for every dollar we spend."

The biggest enrollment increase could be found in public health insurance plans Medicaid and Child Health Plan Plus, both administered by CDHCPF. The number of enrolled Northwest Coloradans more than doubled since 2013 levels.

"We can track a very significant partition of the drop in uninsured rates to the expansion of Medicaid," Lueck said.

Medicaid enrollment is higher statewide at 21.3 percent, compared to 16.9 percent in HSR 11. Colorado was one of 28 states to opt in to Medicaid expansion as part of the ACA in 2012, opening the door to childless, low-income adults for the first time.

"There were a whole lot of people that might not have thought they qualified for Medicaid, (but did)," said Janie Dunckley, VNA director of business development. "The whole (enrollment) process helped us to identify those eligible, but not enrolled."

One reason for the still-high uninsured rates in Northwest Colorado has to do with "churn," according to Dunckley, referring to individuals who meet Medicaid qualifications one month but not the next, often due to seasonal employment. Another reason is affordability.

"As a region, we're grouped into the highest cost insurance rates, grouped with Vail and Aspen and other resort areas, so it can still be unaffordable for people to get coverage," Dunckley said.

Even with the increased coverage, a higher percentage of Northwest Coloradans than the statewide average reported they didn't get medical care due to cost in the past 12 months, according to the survey.

Nearly 25 percent didn't get dental care due to cost, one issue that the VNA is currently working to address. Brown said they plan to hire a dental hygienist by the end of January to work part-time in both the Craig and Steamboat clinics and are working in partnership with Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition to further increase access to oral health care.

With open enrollment for health insurance starting again in November, the VNA and other health partners are encouraging people to start the process early instead of waiting for the deadline, Brown said.

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.

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