There has been little good economic news for most Americans in recent months, if not years, with unemployment numbers at troublingly high levels, debt crises sweeping the globe with corresponding implications for the federal and state budgets as well as personal finances. These compounding micro and macro concerns contribute to and are worsened by such news as that showing that the number of Coloradoans who lack health insurance is rising at breakneck rates.
The 2011 Colorado Health Access Survey released last week found that 16 percent of Coloradans do not have insurance a figure that rose 22 percent over the period studied. In real numbers, the increase means that 829,000 people in Colorado lack coverage. Combined with those whose insurance does not cover their medical expenses sufficiently to match with their income, 1.5 million Coloradans are uninsured or underinsured.
And that assessment is at the statewide level; the situation is even more bleak locally. In the region of the state, which includes La Plata, Archuleta, Montezuma, Dolores and San Juan counties, the uninsured rolls jumped nearly 34 percent in the period studied an increase that directly correlates with more frequent use of emergency rooms for conditions that on their own would not command such attention. Emergency care is among the most costly of the options. Hospitals seek higher reimbursements to cover the expensive care, charge higher rates on other services to offset the losses, patients are overburdened with bills they cannot pay and insurers raise rates to cover the cost of the inflated bills they must pay.
As a result of this system, more individuals fall from the pool of insured patients, and the problem grows exponentially. Add to that this regions limited resources in terms of primary care options, and the situation is compounded. With demand for primary and preventive care exceeding supply, more patients are funneled into higher-cost care, regardless of the insurance landscape.
What is left is a clear picture of the problem made clearer by the findings of the Health Access Survey: Coloradans in general, and residents of this region in particular, are not adequately covered, and cannot afford the care that they seek. Coupled with a weak economy and high unemployment that restricts access to employer-sponsored health insurance, the health care scene in the state is increasingly bleak.
What is less clear is how the problem gets solved. It could take a dramatic reform of the health care system far beyond what was included in the much-pilloried Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act. In the meantime, state and federal programs are left to pick up the slack, but are underfunded to do so adequately, and individuals health runs the very real risk of being compromised.