Local uninsured expected to increase | VailDaily.com

Local uninsured expected to increase

Steve Lynn
Vail CO, Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyMarie Calvo, left, and her sons, Pablo, 4, center and Antonio, 8 months, in stroller, watches son Santiago, 6, play T-ball while husband Alejandro coaches Monday at the Eagle County Fairgrounds in Eagle. Alejandro and his three children have health insurance, but Marie does not.

EAGLE COUNTY ” Alejandro Calvo owes about $8,800 to the hospital for his son Antonio’s birth eight months ago.

Calvo’s wife does not have health insurance and the family already pays $400 each month for his three children for health insurance, he said.

“If your stomach hurts or something, you just think twice,” Calvo said about taking his wife to see the doctor.

Calvo’s family is not alone. In recent surveys, as much as 26 percent of Eagle County residents could name someone in their family without health insurance, according to an Eagle County Health and Human Services study to be published online in the next couple weeks.

“It’s probably even higher,” said Jill Hunsaker, public health manager for Eagle County.

In the most recent survey, 38 percent of residents said they had trouble getting health care, the study says.

Eagle County has a higher percentage of uninsured residents than the rest of Colorado or the nation, the study says.

In Eagle County, recent Hispanic immigrants, young adults (especially men) and those working part-time or earning a modest income are most likely to be uninsured, the study says.

Many of those people work low-wage, service industry jobs and they lack health insurance because the service industry generally does not provide health insurance, the study says.

Calvo’s wife worked at a bowling alley, which refused to provide her with health insurance.

“That’s one of the reasons she quit,” Calvo said.

Neither Carla, 22, nor her husband, 23, both formerly of Mexico, have health insurance and the family owes $3,000 to the Vail Valley Medical Center for the birth of their 11-month-old daughter, Emily.

“It’s too expensive and it’s hard to get,” said Carla, who asked that her last name be withheld because she is an illegal immigrant.

Emily, on Medicaid, is the only one who has health insurance, said Carla, of Avon.

Carla’s husband had health insurance until the plumbing and heating company he worked for dropped it because it was too expensive, she said.

Residents of Eagle County are at a disadvantage in getting health care because, unlike metropolitan areas, small businesses with few employees cannot afford to purchase coverage, Hunsaker said.

A greater number of healthy employees will offset the cost of sick employees, making insurance affordable, Hunsaker said.

In Eagle County, the healthcare system consists of one 58-bed hospital, a care clinic that serves impoverished people, 35 general physicians, three ambulance districts, a county public health agency and multiple specialty providers. All that serves nearly 50,000 residents.

Eagle County should build a community health center because the county’s healthcare system is “at capacity,” the study’s authors recommend. The county is expected to grow by 7,723 people by 2010, so 2,000 more residents may not have health insurance, the study says.

Uninsured people use Vail Valley Medical Center’s emergency room to get treatment for ear infections, sore throats and respiratory illnesses, the study says. That inefficient use of resources forces the hospital to raise costs, which are passed on to other people who use the hospital ” not to mention higher insurance premiums and co-pay for those who are insured, Hunsaker said.

People who don’t have health insurance or have insurance and fail to provide it to the hospital owe a total of $6.2 million, said Liz Propp, chief financial officer for the Vail Valley Medical Center.

Propp declined to comment on whether the amount owed has driven up costs at the hospital.

“Industry experts would tell you that the rising costs of the uninsured are driving healthcare costs up,” she said.

A community health center ” a nonprofit health clinic that could be corporate- or government-funded ” sounds like a good idea to Richard Velasco, of Eagle.

Velasco has health insurance for himself and his two sons, but he barely makes enough to pay for rent, food and his bills, he said. His insurance premiums take a good chunk of his paycheck, he said.

“I wish they had programs for middle-class people, because you go down to the county and they say, ‘You make too much,'” Velasco said.

Calvo thinks he could pay off his debt and work toward buying a house if he didn’t have to pay $400 each month for his kids. But the risk isn’t worth it, he said.

“Kids never get sick when you’re on insurance,” he said. “They always get sick when you don’t.”

Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 748-2931 or slynn@vaildaily.com.

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