Health surveys show progress, areas of concern
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Titled “Progress in Peril,” the latest results of the Colorado Health Institute’s Colorado Health Access Survey (CHAS) indicates stability in the rate of people with health coverage.
The uninsured rate — 6.5% — was nearly the same in both the 2015 and 2017 surveys.
Colorado’s uninsured rate dropped from 14.3% in 2013 to 6.5% in 2017, after the key provisions of the Affordable Care Act took effect in 2014.
However, regarding the “peril” part, the Colorado Health Institute shows “there are concerning indications that health care is becoming increasingly unaffordable and hard to access for many Coloradans.”
There are warning signs that people are having issues with affordability of their coverage or their care, said institute officials, as well as signs people may be going without care because of cost.
The trends could move toward more people becoming uninsured, they said, especially if the affordability issue remains significant in the midst of a relatively strong economy.
The survey showed more people getting insurance through their employer, with fewer enrolling in Medicaid and the individual market.
There was also significant “churn,” with more people switching insurers or losing coverage, “raising concerns about continuity of care.”
Statewide, 19.1% reported losing, switching or gaining insurance during the past year.
Despite the booming economy, the survey showed 18% of people reported a problem paying medical bills during the past year.
In the region HSR 11, which includes Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties, 29.7% of people reported having problems paying medical bills.
“The CHI CHAS survey results mirror much of what is already known to our region and for which there are concerted efforts from community members and partners to address,” wrote Routt County Public Health Director Kari Ladrow in an emailed interview. “Unfortunately, we still have many residents struggling, and while an economic boom has been experienced by the nation as a whole, for families struggling to survive in our local communities, that offers little solace.”
Statewide, 9.6% reported eating less than they should because they lacked food. In the HSR 11 region, it was 7.9%.
Nearly one in 10 Coloradans said they couldn’t afford food at some point in the past year, with approximately 6.7% worrying about where they will live in the next two months.
Affordable housing is, of course, a more pronounced challenge in resort communities.
“Food insecurity remains problematic for our communities with recent Community Health Assessment data showing 26% of people know someone who has faced a lack of access to food,” Ladrow said.
It also showed 73.4% of those surveyed indicated they know someone who faces an inability to afford health insurance. The 2019 Community Health Assessment covers Routt and Moffat counties.
Access and affordability of mental health care also remains a persistent concern. Stigma plays a role in accessing care, both at the statewide and local area, studies found.
Statewide, one in seven Coloradans say they needed mental health treatment and didn’t get it.
One statistic from the local assessment Ladrow called “staggering” related to mental health. It showed that 56.1% of individuals know someone who faced an inability to afford needed mental health services.
“Fortunately, UCHealth, the Northwest Colorado Health Partnership, Northwest Colorado Health, Mind Springs and other providers all work tirelessly towards stigma reduction, but it is a systemic and pervasive national issue to combat,” she said.
The Colorado Health Institute survey, while showing stability in the state’s uninsured rate, carries along with it a number of story lines they will be looking into more closely, officials said.
And, despite the progress, they will keep a close eye on the concern that “significant numbers of Coloradans report challenges with health care affordability, food, housing and accessing behavioral health care.”
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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Pulmonologist Dr. Brent Peters, medical director of the Sleep Lab at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, considers his work in sleep medicine fun because of the positive changes he can see in patients.