Health costs are cause for dismay

Grand Junction Sentinel, June 16, 2016

Health costs are cause for dismay

Runaway health care costs are crippling consumers and may make the cost of providing care even higher in the future if patients choose not to carry coverage at all.

That theory from Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County commissioner, was one of many pleas by members of the public to the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care to help suggest health care cost cures to lawmakers.

Thursday’s meeting at Colorado Mesa University was one of a handful of gatherings that are occurring across the state as commission members travel to gain insight into how to help make recommendations to the Colorado Legislature.

Richards said that although people believe Pitkin County residents are mostly affluent (the county is home to the tony city of Aspen) most residents make just enough not to qualify for incentives available on the state health insurance exchange, but not enough to afford steep and rising health care costs.

The threat of further double-digit percentage health care cost increases in 2017 is causing residents to consider major life changes in order to afford health care coverage. Richards said the price tags are causing people to consider moving away, take a job that pays in cash or turn down work in order to qualify for subsidies.

“The level of desperation has become palpable,” she told commission members.

Issues of rising health care costs “are causing deep societal effects that most people don’t even realize,” she added.

Richards suggested commission members consider creating disincentives to hospitals’ nonprofit status for those hospitals that charge above-average costs for services, as one way to help keep costs in check.

According to information compiled by the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care, Grand Junction residents and those in the Grand Junction region who are covered under commercial and Medicaid insurance programs paid more than the state average for health care costs in 2014.

Average statewide costs for payments of commercial insurance was $2,400 while Grand Junction residents paid an average of $2,600. Grand Junction region residents paid even more, an average of $3,000.

Medicaid patient payments were an average of $3,400 in the state in 2014, but Grand Junction residents with that insurance paid an average of $5,700. Those in the Grand Junction area on Medicaid made payments on average of $6,000.

Dr. Michael Pramenko urged commission members to seek insight from health care models that work, not just in the U.S., but globally.

He said many people are convinced that health care should be all government-based or none at all, but the best outcome to control health care costs might involve both.

Pramenko also said the health care system might be smart to include incentives for patients to maintain their health, much like the added taxes placed on tobacco sales.

“The sugar tax — don’t laugh, we need that in our health care,” he said. “The obesity epidemic will ruin Medicare. We have to have responsibility on both ends of the spectrum.”

Residents are encouraged to make comments to members of the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care online at colorado.gov/cocostcommission.