Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Health Access Survey: Coverage rates steady, but other stats look troubling

Posted By on Wed, Sep 25, 2019 at 2:33 PM

click to enlarge Statewide, 30.6 percent of people had a surprise medical bill in the last year. - VOLODYMYR MAKSYMCHUK / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • VOLODYMYR MAKSYMCHUK / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Statewide, 30.6 percent of people had a surprise medical bill in the last year.

On Sept. 25, the Colorado Health Institute released the first batch of results from its biennial Colorado Health Access Survey detailing a number of health coverage factors for Coloradans.

On the surface, the nonprofit's analysis notes, the numbers look good. Coverage rates remain steady, showing just 6.5 percent of Coloradans do not have health insurance. That's the same as in 2017, and represents a drop of nearly 8 percentage points from 2013, the year before the Affordable Care Act took effect.

In El Paso County, the uninsured rate actually decreased from 7.5 percent in 2017 to 5.6 percent in the latest report.

But "churn" — the percentage of people who lost, switched, or gained coverage in the past 12 months — edged slightly upwards.

"Churn can make it difficult for people to maintain continuity in their medical care," CHI's report says. "When churn increases, insurance companies and government programs have a harder time predicting the health needs of the people they cover."

Statewide, 19.1 percent of respondents experienced this, up from 16.5 percent in 2017. In El Paso County, "churn" increased from 14.5 percent to 18.6 percent. That means about 130,000 people in the county switched insurance or went without it for at least part of the year prior to when they were surveyed.

Also troubling from a statewide perspective: “Over 10 percent of Hispanics, over 11 percent of residents in some west slope communities, and nearly 12 percent of working- and middle-class families (those making $60-$75,000/year with a family of four) are uninsured," notes Adam Fox, director of strategic engagement for the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, who is quoted in a Sept. 25 statement.

"With some rural Coloradans having only one insurance provider to 'choose' from, they can’t afford the premiums offered in a monopoly market," Fox continues. "Eighteen percent (up from 14 percent in 2017) expressed trouble paying medical bills."

While trends on mental health also appear worrying, they could be influenced by factors outside the survey's purview, such as decreasing stigma.

The share of people who reported poor mental health increased from 11.8 percent to 15.3 percent statewide, and from 12.1 percent to 14.6 percent in El Paso County. For the purposes of the survey, "poor mental health" was defined as "eight or more days of experiencing stress, depression, and problems with emotions out of the past 30."

But these stats "don’t necessarily mean that more people are experiencing poor mental health," the CHI report explains. "Instead, the rise could mean that more Coloradans are comfortable talking about their mental health, either because of increasing awareness of the topic or because most respondents took the survey online, rather than by phone, in 2019."

Below, view a profile of El Paso County (Health Statistics Region 4) based on the initial survey results. You can also visit CHI's website to see a statewide analysis and download profiles by region. CHI's next round of findings will be released in December.

Other useful links:

2017 Health Access Survey

2017 profiles by county and region


Correction Sept. 25: This story has been updated to reflect the correct source of the survey, Colorado Health Institute. A previous version incorrectly attributed the survey to the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.

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