Colorado health officials tout increase in Medicaid roles | AspenTimes.com

Colorado health officials tout increase in Medicaid roles

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily
Northwest Colorado has the state's highest percentage of people without health insurance, according to the 2015 Colorado Healthcare Access Survey.
Special to the Daily |

State health officials say enrolling almost a half million more Coloradans in Medicaid is a cause for celebration.

The percent of Coloradans without health insurance dropped to 6.7 percent, said Michele Lueck, CEO of the Colorado Health Institute.

The drop is due largely to adding 450,000 more people to Colorado’s Medicaid rolls. One in three Coloradans is now covered by a public plan such as Medicaid and Medicare, up from 1 in 4 before Medicaid expansion became a central issue in the Affordable Care Act.

“Whether you agree or disagree, the central charge was to get more Americans and Coloradans insured,” Lueck said. “Colorado has done what it set out to do.”

Expanding the state’s Medicaid rolls the past two years cut the number of uninsured Coloradans by more than half during that time to 6.7 percent, down from 14.3 percent in 2013, Leuck said.

Part of that drop also can be attributed to forcing people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty.

Those penalties will get stiffer next year, Leuck said, to as much as 2.5 percent of an individual’s income or as much as $2,085 per household.

Uninsured numbers

For now, 353,000 Coloradans don’t have health insurance, according to the 2015 Colorado Health Access Survey. Four years ago, Colorado’s uninsured rate stood at a high of 15.8 percent with 829,000 without health insurance, the survey says.

Medicaid is a federal means-tested health- and medical-services program. In Colorado’s case, Medicaid eligibility was expanded to people earning 138 percent of federal poverty level, Leuck said. The federal poverty level is $24,250 for a family of four, according to Healthcare.gov.

Hispanics continue to be the most disproportionately uninsured. And the Western Slope, especially northwestern Colorado, still struggles with the state’s highest uninsured rates, the survey said.

We’re No. 1

When the Affordable Care Act maps were first introduced last year, Colorado’s Region 12 — Eagle, Pitkin, Summit, Garfield and Grand counties — had the nation’s highest health care costs.

That hasn’t changed yet, Leuck said.

Nothing in the 2015 Colorado Health Access Survey data released Monday speaks to that, nor to rate-increase requests by some health-insurance companies doing business in Colorado. Rocky Mountain HMO, for example, asked the Colorado Division of Insurance for permission to raise its rates 34.4 percent. Anthem Blue Cross asked for an 8.2 percent increase, and Humana wants 20.9 percent more.

Of the 17 companies asking for rate changes, only two are requesting rate reductions: Cigna (5.1 percent) and United Healthcare Life Insurance Co. (2.3 percent).

The Division of Insurance will rule on those requests later this month, said Marguerite Salazar, division director.

We’re No. 2

While Colorado’s uninsured rate dropped to 6.7 percent, the rate of uninsured people in Region 12 — Eagle, Pitkin, Summit, Garfield and Grand counties — is 11.7 percent, down from 19.4 percent in 2013.

That’s still Colorado’s second-highest, behind Region 11: Jackson, Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.

Among other findings

Not only is our region’s uninsured rate of 11.7 percent second-worst in the state, but our Medicare and Medicaid enrollment rates are lower than the state average.

Conversely, the individual market, which can be expensive, has a much higher rate of use than the state average.

A smaller percentage (81.7 percent) of people in the region visited a health professional in the past year than the state average.

A smaller portion of people have dental insurance (70.6 percent) than average.

On the plus side, 78.3 percent of the people in our region did not use the emergency room last year, less than the state average.

Mental-health scores also are better than average.

About the survey

The 2015 Colorado Health Access Survey was a telephone survey of 10,136 randomly selected households in Colorado, both landlines and cellphones, administered between March 2 and June 26. The margin of error for the uninsured rate of 6.7 percent is plus or minus 0.93 points, a range from 5.8 to 7.6 percent.

The survey cost $625,000 for the survey contractor, a firm called SSRS. The survey is put together and administered by the Colorado Health Institute. It is funded exclusively by the Colorado Trust, a private foundation, said Joe Hanel of the Colorado Health Institute.


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