Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne addresses health care concerns at Glenwood town hall
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
A wreck prevented Colorado Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne from arriving Saturday at a health care town hall scheduled in Glenwood Springs, but the event went on.
About two dozen people, many of them health-care professionals, gathered for the event, which Lynne joined via telephone. Lynne is running for governor in the 2018 race, and her background includes 28 years in health care.
“Health care is the No. 1 issue that not only people in Colorado are concerned about, but people around the nation,” Lynne said.
Her focus for the past 11 months has been to preserve and protect the Affordable Care Act as the Trump administration attempts to repeal it. Since the ACA’s enactment, she said, Medicaid has expanded to include 400,000 more Coloradans, and the state’s uninsured rate has dropped from 15 to 6 percent. Even so, she said, there are important issues to address. She wants to see universal health care, and is especially concerned about the cost for individuals in Eagle, Garfield, Pitkin and Summit counties.
Lynne also is an advocate for the reauthorization of the national Children’s Health Insurance Program, which expired Sept. 30. Thanks to state funding, Coloradans in the program are covered through Jan. 31. Lynne said she works daily with the congressional delegation to reinstate federal funding. If that fails, she will introduce a state bill to continue to support the program, which she said affects 76,000 in the state.
Those gathered shared concerns about a number of health care-related issues. Among them:
Ricardo Zavala, the lead dental assistant at Mountain Family’s El Jebel clinic, said dental care is not readily available in the community. The clinic’s 35-foot mobile unit sees as many as 12 patients daily, but demand exceeds both its capacity and that of other area providers. Mountain Family CEO Ross Brooks said that’s in part because the area’s cost of living is a challenge for recruitment. Lynne said she would reach out to a friend at Delta Dental, a not-for-profit that offers national dental coverage.
“They will often locate a dentist into areas with needs like you’re describing,” she said. The Delta Dental web database indicates 20 area dentists in its network.
Valley Settlement Project Executive Director John Fox-Rubin expressed concern about children whose schools are in session four days a week. Students on free and reduced lunch programs may be going hungry the other three days, and hunger can affect learning outcomes.
Carbondale resident Elizabeth Cammack referenced programs that send backpacks of necessary items home with children in need. But it’s chronically underfunded. School lunch programs are often “nutritionally bereft,” she added, though that’s not always because of lack of effort on the staff’s part.
Lynne said the state must examine whether it’s funding education at the level it should be.
“Can we do some redistribution of revenue to school districts that really need it in our state?” she asked. Some districts cannot afford to increase property taxes, but need additional support.
She also said she would follow up with Cammack about connecting local organizations to LiveWell Colorado. The program works to create equal opportunity for health by addressing systemic inequality. Its School Food Initiative is one of several school-based efforts to improve student nutrition.
Pitkin County Director of Human Services Nan Sundeen urged Lynne to examine local efforts and how they can be applied statewide. Money is often siloed because intentions are siloed, she said. Lynne agreed that it’s a challenge, and said she is not opposed to considering reorganization of departments.
Jenny Lang, Mountain Family’s site director for Glenwood Springs and Edwards, said patients often opt for an ER visit when a primary care visit would have been sufficient. Lynne said increasing telehealth and telemedicine access and insurance coverage would also cut down on ER costs. When some of the medical professionals noted that the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing doesn’t consider such programs reimbursable, Lynne pledged to address that issue as soon as possible.
Lynne identified several top priorities in improving health care: Transparent information would help patients make informed decisions. As it stands, it can be difficult for a patient to learn something as basic as prescription cost before having it filled.
“It’s a foundational consumer tool we ought to have,” Lynne said.
We also need to have a conversation around additional subsidies for rural communities, she said.
She would also like to bring everyone together and consider a single payer bill. Gov. John Hickenlooper has been skilled at bringing people into conversation with one another, Lynne said.
“If you bring together all the organizations that touch health care, we can talk about something that ensures 100 percent coverage,” she said. “We can’t get there until we agree about why that’s important and shift costs to business community.”
The state could use the West Mountain Regional Health Alliance as a blueprint for other collaborations, she added.
Tenants at the city’s oldest deed-restricted housing complex, Centennial Apartments, faced rent hikes as high as 30% in January that sent city, county, and APCHA officials into closed-door meetings with the relatively new landlord, Birge & Held.