Most Coloradoans have access to basic health care – checkups, immunizations, dental care and mental health counseling – through employer-sponsored insurance, but about 770,000 or 17 percent of residents lack any kind of health insurance.
Medicaid is a publicly-funded health insurance program for about 400,000 low-income children, some of their parents, people with disabilities and elders. Likewise, the Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+) program insures about 50,000 children and pregnant women with incomes somewhat higher than Medicaid thresholds.
Because of low reimbursement rates, however, Coloradoans enrolled in these publicly-funded programs may have difficulty obtaining care from private doctors and hospitals.
Fortunately, there is a health care safety net, a collection of public and private clinics and hospital emergency departments that provides basic health care to these vulnerable populations.
The Colorado Health Institute (CHI), a nonprofit organization that provides objective health information for decision-makers is engaged in a Safety Net Indicators and Monitoring project that will assess how well Colorado’s safety net is meeting the basic health care needs of the state’s vulnerable populations.
CHI estimates that about 11 percent of El Paso County’s population is uninsured and an additional 9 percent rely on Medicaid and CHP+. While the rate of uninsured is slightly better than the statewide average, it still means that about 120,000 residents of El Paso County are medically “vulnerable.”
The Community Health Partnership — a partnership including Peak Vista Community Health Centers, Memorial and Penrose-St. Francis hospitals, faith-based clinics, the county health department and the county medical society — has undertaken an innovative approach to improving the effectiveness of El Paso County’s safety net.
The CATCH system connects doctors and other health professionals willing to donate their services with uninsured residents. It is complimented by HealthTrack, a “mini medical record” which helps clinics and hospitals identify residents who are receiving services from other safety net providers in the county, and maximizes provider reimbursement and minimizes duplication of services.
At the invitation of the Community Health Partnership, CHI is undertaking a rigorous evaluation of the HealthTrack system. In addition, CHI will be assessing how the partnership has come together to meet the basic health care needs of El Paso County’s vulnerable populations.
As in any health care system, an important criterion of success is providing the right care at the right time. Too often, the uninsured and the publicly insured postpone care until a minor problem becomes major. This drives up the cost of care while diminishing quality of life.
People use expensive emergency department care or end up being admitted to the hospital for lack of appropriate access to basic primary care.
El Paso County appears to have developed a unique and effective solution to this endemic problem in America’s health care system.
Through its evaluation of the HealthTrack system and understanding of the functioning of the Community Health Partnership, CHI hopes to uncover valuable lessons that can be applied elsewhere in Colorado and across the country in tailoring a safety net that effectively meets the basic health care needs of low-income uninsured and publicly insured residents.