Vail Daily column: How federal heath care reform affects Eagle County | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: How federal heath care reform affects Eagle County

Jill Ryan, Kathy Chandler-Henry, Jeanne McQueeney
Valley Voices

Editor’s note: Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.

Colorado counties are the front door to the state’s health system, investing significant limited local resources in community health systems. These local governments help provide financial support to local hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, behavioral health authorities and public health departments, which in turn assist the undeserved and vulnerable residents of our state.

The proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act would significantly alter the way in which counties interact with state and federal governments with regard to the provision of health care services, and ultimately Coloradans — rural and urban alike — will suffer.

Counties have historically played a key role in the administration of the state’s Medicaid program, and the recent economic downturn has proved no different, as counties have been the linchpins for the state’s safety net health care system. However, Colorado’s recovery from the Great Recession has been inconsistent across our state.

The urban Front Range corridor has seen significantly more growth and is experiencing an economic boom that has ushered in other problems, such as the need for affordable housing and social support services. Meanwhile, Colorado’s rural and mountain communities have lagged behind and do not enjoy the benefits of the recent economic growth. In this respect, the impact of health care reform will affect Colorado in different ways — all of which need to be taken into consideration.

In Eagle County, nearly 14 percent of the population is enrolled in the Medicaid program, with approximately one-third being eligible under the expansions provided by the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid is a key factor in keeping rural health care providers afloat. Medicaid has not only provided coverage for rural Coloradans, it has preserved their ability to maintain critical access to hospitals and primary-care providers. Increased health care coverage through subsidies and Medicaid has directly supported jobs and the economy in rural communities.

The proposed Senate legislation will drastically scale back the Medicaid expansion population, which, in turn, will shift the cost of care to local governments and local providers. Rural health care providers typically operate on slim budgets and are not able to absorb additional reductions. The cuts to Medicaid proposed in the Better Care Reconciliation Act, as well as the American Health Care Act, would devastate rural Colorado communities.

In Colorado’s mountain communities, which face some of the highest insurance costs in the country, the reduction of subsidies contemplated in the legislation will have a chilling effect on residents’ ability to access insurance coverage and on clinics’ ability to provide care. Since rural Colorado relies heavily on subsidies available through the state’s health care exchange, it can be expected that a large number of residents will become uninsured, as coverage will be unfordable.

Given the high stakes at hand, we urge Colorado’s Congressional delegation to keep Colorado counties at the forefront when making decisions about health care reform. While we may not all agree on the perfect solution to the solve the country’s health care challenges, we can all agree that this is not a viable path forward for Colorado and the rest of the nation.

Jill Ryan, Kathy Chandler-Henry and Jeanne McQueeney are Eagle County commissioners.