Tue November 15, 2011

Colorado’s Uninsured Jumps By 22%

The number of Coloradans without health insurance has risen by 22 percent in the last two years, with 829,000 residents now uninsured, according to a survey released Tuesday.

The 2011 Colorado Health Access Survey shows that the poor economy has made carrying health care coverage increasingly difficult for state residents. Two years ago, when the last survey was conducted, 678,000 residents lacked coverage.

“That’s 151,000 additional Coloradans who are uninsured. That would be as if the entire city of Grand Junction lost health insurance all at once,” said Dr. Ned Calonge, president of The Colorado Trust, which funded the survey. “That’s a remarkable increase and it’s a serious issue. ”

In addition, uninsured residents are staying uninsured longer. According to the survey, more than 60 percent of uninsured Coloradans revealed that they’ve been without health care insurance for at least a year, up from 56 percent two years ago.

The number of underinsured residents – those who spend more than 10 percent of their income on health care expenses because their coverage doesn’t adequately cover those costs – has risen from 650,000 to 675,0000. Combined, the number of uninsured and underinsured Coloradans totaled 1.5 million people.

Increasingly typical is Celestia Pratt of Colorado Springs, a self-employed "Jill of all trades."

"I don't have any health insurance, said Pratt, who was interviewed at a recent 9Health Fair, where she was getting routine blood tests. I couldn't afford $700 a month. It's really expensive as you age."

The survey found that the leading barrier to gaining sufficient coverage is the high cost of health insurance, with 85 percent of respondents citing cost as a major obstacle. A lack of employer-provided coverage was also a factor, with 41 percent of respondents reporting that a family member was either not offered coverage or was considered ineligible for coverage. The percentage of residents with employer-provided coverage declined from 64 percent to 58 percent over the past two years.

Younger residents and poor populations are more likely to be uninsured than their older and higher-income counterparts. And while the majority of uninsured Coloradans are white, 33 percent of Hispanics are uninsured, although they make up 20 percent of the state’s population.

Lack of insurance varied greatly by region.

“A lot of differences have to do with the kinds of employers and jobs available to people throughout the state,” said Michele Lueck, president and CEO of the Colorado Health Institute, which conducted the survey.

The Western Slope and resort communities, home to seasonal jobs and tourism-based businesses, reported the highest percentages of uninsured rates statewide.  Rural communities in Northern Colorado and the Eastern Plains also had higher numbers of uninsured residents.

Children aged 0 to 18 were the only group to remain fairly stable in terms of insurance – something Lueck attributed to state efforts to enroll more eligible kids in Medicaid and the Child Health Plus Program.

The survey included more than 10,000 Colorado households, who were interviewed between May 10 and Aug. 14. The Colorado Trust has agreed to fund the survey every other year until 2017. 


Mountain Communities & Western Slope

A quarter of the residents living in the state’s resort communities lack health insurance, according to the 2011 Colorado Health Access Survey. The Western Slope as a whole doesn’t fare much better, with most areas reporting 20 percent or more without insurance. The region had the highest concentration of uninsured residents statewide.

Officials at the Colorado Health Institute, which managed the data collection, cited a lack of employer-provided coverage for the higher percentage of uninsured residents in the region.

Mesa County residents fared better, with 17.5 percent of the population lacking insurance. The county’s residents also have good access to care.  Just 5.8 percent of Mesa County residents reported being without a usual source of health care, the lowest percentage in the state. In comparison, 12 percent of residents statewide reported no usual source of care.


Northern Colorado

The number of uninsured residents in Northern Colorado continues to rise.  The percentage lacking insurance jumped from 10. 6 percent in the last two years to 18.4 percent in Weld County, while the percentage of uninsured in Larimer County rose from 14.6 percent to 15.7 percent.

Weld County's unemployment rate, which is higher than the state overall, might be a factor in the increase as many survey respondents cite the high cost of health insurance as an obstacle to coverage. Unemployed Coloradans are far more likely to not have insurance, according to the study.

The increasing lack of health insurance among residents in Weld County could be impacting access to care. In the survey, 16.5 percent of Weld County residents reported having no usual source of care - the highest level in the state. Without insurance or a regular primary care access, many people choose to use emergency rooms when they have a health issue.