The Colorado Health Access Survey results were released earlier this month, and the results aren’t particularly surprising given the state of the economy for the past few years. The total number of uninsured Colorado residents is now 829,000 – up from 678,000 in 2009. The survey also counts the number of “underinsured” residents (those who aren’t able to afford their out-of-pocket expenses that total more than 10% of their income, or 5% for those below the poverty line). The two categories – uninsured and underinsured – amount to 1.5 million people, which is about a third of the Colorado population.
The 22% increase in the number of uninsured residents came despite strong efforts in Colorado to expand access to Medicaid and CHP+ over the past few years. Without the expansion of those programs, the numbers would undoubtedly be even more bleak.
The primary barrier to obtaining health insurance continues to be cost: 85% of the uninsured survey respondents indicated that they aren’t able to afford health insurance. This number is down slightly from 88% in 2009, but it’s still the main reason people don’t have health insurance. Problems with obtaining employer-sponsored health insurance was another significant reason people didn’t have health insurance: either they were no longer able to afford or qualify for coverage under an employer plan (for example, if the employer stopped sponsoring coverage for employees’ dependents), or the lost their job, or their employer simply stopped offering health insurance all together.
17% of the uninsured indicated that they don’t know how to go about obtaining health insurance. The specific questions and concerns these people have should probably be analyzed by the Colorado Health Benefits Exchange Board in order to craft an exchange that will reach as many Colorado residents as possible. If one out of every six uninsured resident doesn’t currently know how to obtain health insurance, simply creating an online marketplace isn’t going to address their problems (of course many of those people could also be among the 85% who aren’t able to afford coverage, so the health insurance subsidies will also be an essential part of the equation).
Most of the western half of Colorado has uninsured rates of more than 20% (see the map on page 6), which places a particularly high burden on hospitals in the smaller towns on the Western Slope.
The survey also found that statewide, 12% of residents have no “usual source of care” that they can utilize for primary care. This number is up from 10% two years ago.
The numbers in the most recent Colorado Health Access Survey are sobering. They’re no doubt linked to the state of the economy, and we can be somewhat hopeful that if the economy picks up – especially in terms of employment numbers – the number of uninsured and underinsured residents will drop. But until then, things are definitely not headed in the right direction when it comes to access to healthcare.