Vail Daily column: Affordable healthcare must be addressed
So you want us to live and work here, but you cannot offer affordable overall health and prescription insurance? Much of Eagle and Summit counties are run on tourism, and in order to have successful tourism, there needs to be the people working the service industry to serve said tourism. There is already an established issue regarding affordable housing, however now a rising concern, with the presidential election and New Year coming up, is health insurance and prescription drug prices.
Our four-county region (Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Garfield) remains among the highest premiums and overall costs for health insurance in the United States. Individual premiums will increase will increase by 20 percent in Colorado, and you will be paying almost double the amount you paid five years ago. There also is not much help when it comes to Medicaid, named Health First Colorado for the state of Colorado. While the state has reduced its uninsured rate from 14.3 percent to 6.7 percent (a drop of over 50 percent), individuals who do not meet the Medicaid requirements struggle greatly to find affordable health insurance, particularly in the high Rockies. Including the fact that most health insurance plans require you to pay extra for prescription drugs. As of now, the Medicaid eligibility requirements, according to Health First Colorado website, are: “Children 0-18 with family incomes up to 142 percent of federal poverty level; children with family incomes up to 260 percent of federal poverty level qualify for Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+); pregnant women with family income up to 195 percent of federal poverty level; (pregnant women with family income up to 260 percent of federal poverty level qualify for CHP+); non-elderly adults with family income up to 138 percent of federal poverty level; some individuals who are elderly or disabled.” As stated in the article (Thursday’s Vail Daily), the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is not working the way it is supposed to, the high rates are making it nearly impossible for residents, both long-term and seasonal workers, to obtain proper health insurance.
Especially considering that we live in an active community, we become more accident prone with the various outdoor activities and adventure. There is also an aging population within the valley that is in need of affordable prescription medication. Also referring to the article, “Large insurers are reducing their stake in the state and federal health insurance exchanges … citing large losses, they say enrollment has been disappointing, patients were sicker than expected and a system to stabilize premiums didn’t work well.” This has led to an increase in prescription drug prices because some of the insurance providers are not offering to pay for certain drugs, or only offering to pay for the very basic generics.
Improvements to this issue includes state lawmakers continuing with these meetings in order to almost advertise the growing issue of overall cost of living, and in particular the health insurance and prescription drug prices in the high Rockies. I feel it also starts with the federal government and then can trickle down into the states and counties.
The government can begin with negotiating with companies for a better deal on prescription drugs; this is banned by law currently, but the government should require Medicare to use its bargaining power to negotiate with prescription drug companies. There can also be importing safe and affordable prescription drugs from Canada; allow individuals, pharmacists, and wholesalers to import prescription drugs from licensed Canadian pharmacies. The government could also restore discounts for the low-income senior population and to close out the private Medicare Part D doughnut hole for the brand and generic drugs. The doughnut hole refers to the gap in Medicare Part D coverage where seniors and those with disabilities must pay for their medications even when they continue to pay monthly premiums. The government can also prohibit anti-competitive deals, also known as “pay-for-delay” deals, between brand and generic drug makers. Brand name drug companies sometimes try to delay their competition by paying generic drug makers to stay off the market, and when these deals occur, the drug prices continue to be high which costs the patients and taxpayers more money.
There is always room for improvement they say. Especially with the presidential election (and other local elections this season) and 2017 around the corner, there seems to be even more of a pressure on health care coverage and prescription drug prices. Living in the high Rockies, and in a resort community, all costs of living are very expensive. In order to keep the community profitable in the tourism sector, you need the hospitality and service industry workers. Affordable healthcare coverage is just another layer that needs to be addressed for living in the Vail Valley.
Charlotte Shaffer-Morel is a Master’s in Public Health student living in Vail