Survey: Health care in Northwest Colorado accessible, not always affordable
CRAIG — More people than ever in Northwest Colorado have access to health care, but the cost keeps care out of reach for some, according to information collected by the 2017 Colorado Health Access Survey.
“There isn’t any other source for this type of data in Colorado, and so, we believe that the CHAS gives the best possible look at measures related to coverage, access and barriers to care for Coloradans,” said Colorado Health Institute policy analyst Teresa Manocchio.
The telephone survey, administered by Colorado Health Institute, polled more than 10,000 households across the state to discover the answers to questions about health insurance, affordable health care and the direction Colorado has taken since the last survey in 2015.
“Three words that we’ve been using when we talk about the CHAS this year is that it’s timely, accurate and relevant. The data is only six weeks old. It’s a quick, almost an instant, snapshot,” said legislative director and policy analyst Allie Morgan.
The report is filled with numbers.
“But we should not lose sight of the fact that each number represents a Coloradan and tells a story,” the survey website said.
Monday and Tuesday, a team of more than 20 people from the Colorado Health Institute spent two days in more than 15 towns across the state, presenting the “stories” the data tells.
“This is a state-based survey, it is all about Colorado, and, not only do we benefit from getting perspectives from around the state, we are also able to go out across the state and ask people what they think. That informs how we interpret the data,” Morgan saud.
A small group of health care professionals and educators gathered Wednesday morning in the boardroom of The Memorial Hospital at Craig to learn about the results of the survey.
Haves and have nots
More people have health insurance, though the number of insured is lower in rural areas. Other insights emerging from the survey include the following.
- Across Colorado, 93.5 percent of people have insurance coverage, leaving 6.5 percent uninsured.
- The percentage of people insured is lower in Northwest Colorado — Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco and Jackson counties — where about 87 percent of people have insurance, leaving 13 percent uninsured.
- Almost 600,000 people in Colorado, including about 10,000 people in Northwest Colorado, acquired health insurance after the launch of the Affordable Care Act.
“In this part of the state, it’s easy to get stuck on the fact that the uninsured rate is high; that deserves attention and concerns, but I don’t want people to lose site of the progress that has been made here and across the state,” Morgan said.
Doctors and specialists are more accessible in Northwest Colorado than in other parts of the state.
Across the state, the wait time to see a doctor ranges from two days to as long as four days. Seeing a specialist takes more than 13 days in some communities.
In Northwest Colorado, people generally see a doctor in about a day and a specialist within about nine days.
This suggests there are enough providers, but the cost of insurance and health care continue to be barriers.
“Seven and a half years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, is health care affordable? Not yet,” Morgan said. “For those who remain uninsured, cost is the primarily barrier,” Morgan said.
Due to these high costs, the following statistics apply to Northwest Colorado.
- 6 percent of people did not fill a prescription.
- 7 percent did not see a doctor.
- 6 percent did not seek specialist care.
- 12 percent did not seek dental care.
However, of those receiving care, fewer people — about 15 percent — reported difficulty paying medical bills in 2017, compared to almost 24 percent in 2009.
The right steps?
“At Colorado Health Institute, we believe that good data and good research can inform good policy and that better policy can improve health,” Manocchio said.
The study concludes that having health insurance is the new normal for most Coloradans and that people here think they are pretty healthy.
One exception to this can be found in the number of people reporting poor mental health, up from about 10 percent in 2015 to almost 12 percent in 2017. Additionally, about 67,000 people said they felt they needed treatment for drug and alcohol use in the past 12 months but did not receive it.
“I’m not sure if others see us in crisis mode, but I see us in a crisis mode for mental health and substance-abuse treatment,” said presentation attendee Zach Johnson, an internal quality auditor at Memorial Regional Health.
Manocchio and Morgan predict that affordability and access to behavioral health will be the next big issues tackled by state policy makers.
“Affordability is the next big frontier for policy makers. If people are going to continue to skip care because it costs too much, then these barriers will remain,” Morgan said. “I think the next legislative session will have emphasis on behavioral health and substance abuse. Overdoses continue to rise, and that’s not sustainable.”
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.
One doesn’t necessarily need to know Beka Warren personally to recognize her name as one of Northwest Colorado’s biggest champions of health equality for underserved populations and a tireless advocate for ensuring local resources exist for victims of crime and trauma.