1 in 6 uninsured in Colorado
The Denver Post,Staff
Colorado has huge disparities in the number of uninsured residents, ranging from almost one in four in Aurora to one in 20 in Highlands Ranch, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released today.
Economists said lower-paying jobs in Aurora, younger residents and an influx of immigrant families account for much of the disparity in health-insurance coverage.
“You have more younger, single people (in Aurora) who, even if they are doing adequately economically, may not be insured,” said economist Bill Kendall with the Center for Business and Economic Forecasting. “Whereas in Highlands Ranch you are going to have mainly families.”
Today’s report is the first time the Census Bureau has released data on health insurance for cities and counties with more than 65,000 people, and for congressional districts.
Overall, 17.2 percent, or about one in six Coloradans, did not have any health insurance last year. That is above the national average and the 16th-highest rate among the 50 states, the figures showed.
State demographer Elizabeth Garner said Colorado’s above-average rate may be the result of its disproportionate number of small businesses.
Insurance-industry experts say small businesses have suffered the most in the economic crisis, contributing to the increase in the number of uninsured.
“They are smaller and run on thinner margins,” said Neil Waldron, chief marketing officer of Rocky Mountain Health Plans.
The Census Bureau figures found Aurora and Denver had the highest uninsured rates, 23.3 percent and 22.6 percent, respectively.
The rates are not a surprise to Aurora health care providers.
The wait time for a new patient to see a doctor at one of Aurora’s three community health clinics for the uninsured is nearly six weeks.
“Thousands of people are trying to get in, and we don’t have the capacity to serve them,” said David Myers, chief executive of the Metro Community Provider Network, which is receiving 8,000 phone calls per month from new patients.
The network includes 10 clinics in Denver’s suburbs to provide medical care for needy people.
Each of the system’s 25 doctors see 15 to 17 patients per day, including four to six new patients, said John Reid, vice president of development. Hundreds are turned away.
The majority of people who call the clinic seeking appointments are from Aurora or Arapahoe and Adams counties, he said. The network recently estimated there are 60,000 uninsured people in Aurora.
“If they don’t get an appointment at MCPN, you can rest assured that nine out of 10 will go to hospital ERs and wait there until they get treated,” Reid said.
Gary Horvath, managing director of the Business Research Division at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, said Aurora also has more lower-paying retail jobs that may not include insurance. By contrast, Boulder has IBM and Jefferson County has Lockheed Martin as major employers, he said.
“Wages for retail are substantially lower than for other jobs,” Horvath said.
Greeley, Longmont and Lakewood also have high uninsured rates with about one in five residents without health coverage, the analysis found.
One of them is Darlene Rowland who had good health insurance and a job as a legal assistant until she was laid off in December. The 63-year-old Lakewood resident recently went in for a checkup at an Englewood clinic for the uninsured, and her doctor said her blood pressure was dangerously high.
He attributed it to the stress of looking for work and not having any money. Though Rowland has had a few temp jobs, there have been months when her pocket book was empty. The doctor prescribed her some blood-pressure medicine, but she didn’t have the $4 that morning for the drugs, so he gave her the money.
“I don’t know what I would have done without that kindness,” Rowland said.
On the other end of the spectrum, Highlands Ranch had the lowest rate, 5.4 percent, followed by neighboring city Centennial, at 7.1 percent. Highlands Ranch had the 14th- lowest rate in the U.S. among the 532 cities and places surveyed.
Nationally, Western states generally had the highest rates. Texas, New Mexico and Nevada were the top three, and six Western states ranked among the top 10 in percent of uninsured, according to the figures.
Researchers said Western states usually have more rural areas where insurance coverage is problematic and more mobile populations that find it difficult to carry their insurance coverage from state to state.
“Those are all highly mobile states,” Garner said.
Staff writer Allison Sherry contributed to this report.