‘Boarder faces huge medical bill
Summit County Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” It was the last run, on the last day of the season, as Breckenridge resident Riki Bolt snowboarded down the familiar terrain of his home mountain.
Just as he was picking up speed, a skier made a wide turn in front of him, he said, causing him to swerve into a cluster of trees.
Three weeks later, Bolt awoke from a medically induced coma at St. Anthony’s Central Hospital in Denver with no idea what happened and no health insurance to fall back on.
His doctors told Bolt that he had suffered 11 broken ribs, a punctured lung, a broken scapula, crushed vertebrae, dislocated shoulder and minor brain hemorrhaging.
Although he felt incredibly lucky to be alive, his thoughts quickly turned to his medical bills, which were adding up at an astounding rate.
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“I haven’t seen the final bill yet, but I know it could cost up to $400,000,” Bolt said. “If I don’t figure out any sort of charity-type deal, my last resort is to file for medical bankruptcy.”
Bolt was unable to obtain insurance benefits through his employer and opted not to buy private insurance coverage due to the high monthly costs.
“Private insurance was looking like $100 a month, minimum,” Bolt said. “That adds up when you factor in the high cost of living in the mountains.”
According to a Summit County Needs Assessment Survey conducted in 2007, access to affordable health care frequently was cited as a negative aspect of living in the county.
“It’s very hard for young, single people living in this county to balance their finances,” said Deb Crook with Summit County Health and Human Services. “At the end of the day, the slice of the dollar left for health care is very small, and rates are only increasing.”
Survey findings also found that a lack of affordable housing was an undercurrent that directly affected health-insurance coverage in Summit County. Focus-group members cited health insurance as a major expense that forces residents to sit down and make a choice between insurance and other necessary living expenses.
“I had full benefits before I moved here, and I never used them,” said Bolt. “So it wasn’t something I really thought about spending money on.”
The uninsured population in Colorado has hovered between 15 percent and 17 percent since 2005, and the Colorado Health Institute estimates that close to 768,000 Coloradans don’t have health insurance.
In Summit County, the populations forced to forego health care normally consist of Hispanics and transient seasonal workers.
“So many young people come to the county to work and ski and think they can go without insurance because they are healthy,” Crook said. “But with the extreme lifestyle up here, it is really easy to get seriously injured on the mountain, even when you’re being cautious.”
Dr. David Gray, with High Altitude Mobile Physicians, sees many uninsured patients in Summit County and claims it’s a subculture he tries to cater to.
“The Summit County population is very self-reliant and most won’t come running to a doctor until something is really wrong,” Gray said. “A lot of it has to do with age, and kids thinking they invulnerable.”
As a traveling physician, Gray sees all types of illnesses and injuries. He charges patients on a case-by-case basis, and all those who use his services end up paying far less than what they would at a hospital, he said.
“My mantra is that medical care does not have to be as expensive as it is,” Gray said. “Health insurance is really a dilemma, and most kids don’t concern themselves with preventative measures until something happens.”
Two months after his accident, Bolt is undergoing psychical therapy but can only afford a handful of sessions.
“There is really no way to negotiate service if you’re uninsured and you have a major accident,” Crook said. “Given what so many people do up here, health insurance is pretty crucial.”
Ashley Dickson can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.