High costs, systemic racism plagues health care, Colorado survey finds

Many respondents say they have delayed recommended treatment

By: - March 18, 2022 5:00 am

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Almost half of Coloradans have delayed a recommended medical treatment due to affordability or access issues, according to a new survey assessing attitudes toward health care reform.

“Unfortunately, the findings from the survey are not terribly surprising to us in many ways. They are stark and in some ways discouraging, because of how Coloradans feel about the affordability of health care and some of the barriers they are facing,” Adam Fox, the deputy director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, during a Thursday call summarizing the findings.

The survey was conducted in mid-January and included over-samples of people of color to ensure their voices were included.

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Responders said they put off medical care for a few reasons: 30% said treatment was too unaffordable, 19% said insurance denied coverage and 9% said the procedure or treatment was not available where they live. The majority of those people who put off care were between 18 and 34 years old.

“That speaks to some of the geographic disparities that we see in our state,” Fox said.

The survey found that people thought emergency room costs, surprise hospital bills, health insurance deductibles, post-care bills and prescription drug costs were the most unaffordable aspects of care.

Just 34% of people feel very confident that they can pay for typical health care, and only 24% feel they can pay the medical costs associated with a major illness or injury.

The survey also addressed general attitudes toward the health care system: 62% of responders said they think systemic racism is problem in the country’s health care system, with Black people, Hispanic or Latino people and Democrats more likely to identify racism as an issue. Seventy percent of people who received coverage through Medicaid said systemic racism was a problem.

“What we see is a fairly high level of awareness or feeling that our health care system is inequitable and that many people face more barriers to care than some people who may not,” Fox said.

Solutions wanted at the federal, state level

Other key findings showed who people blamed for high costs in health care versus who they felt should have the responsibility to find solutions.

“When asked about high cost, there is plenty of blame to go around. Coloradans say that the blame is shared by the government, health insurance companies, drug companies and Wall Street firms. But when asked about solutions and how to fix rising costs, most are looking to the federal and state governments,” said Sara Froelich, the executive director of Denver-based Chronic Care Collaborative.

Approximately one-fourth of people blamed the federal government for rising health care costs, and 44% said the federal government should be the entity fixing the problem. Eleven percent said the state government should have the most responsibility in addressing rising costs.

The most supported solutions from the survey involve lowering prescription drug costs, putting limits on what hospitals can charge for services, eliminating or capping insurance deductibles and lowering health insurance premiums through tax credits.

Thirty-six percent of people also said they strongly support a national health plan, but that choice also faced 30% of people strongly opposing it.

Some of those solutions, Fox said, were included in the “Colorado Option” bill that the state Legislature passed last summer, which will require insurers to offer the Colorado Health Benefit Option by 2023.

“In some ways, the Colorado Option, a quasi-public option that was passed this past year, does a number of all of these things in some ways,” Fox said. The predictable costs the option should create aren’t as far as advocates might want to go, but he said “it’s a step in that direction.”

Gov. Jared Polis has made affordability and saving people money on all fronts a cornerstone of his reelection campaign this year. In his State of the State address in January, Polis touted the creation of the Office of Saving People Money on Health Care and his vision of a “future where access to affordable and quality health care is a given, not an aspiration.”

Still, that might not translate to some people.

“I think we see a level of frustration because people feel that the government is not doing enough to make health care more affordable,” Fox said.

This legislative session, there is an effort to enhance public health programs for low-income families and a bill to enforce hospital pricing transparency, among others.

Fox said that CCHI’s legislative priorities are also more narrow this session.

“There were huge health care bills that passed last session — namely the Colorado Option, prescription drug affordability, as well as the hospital financial assistance and billing practices legislation,” he said. “We have been really focused on trying to make sure those are faithfully implemented.”

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Sara Wilson
Sara Wilson

Sara Wilson covers state government, Colorado's congressional delegation, energy and other stories for Newsline. She formerly was a reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain, where she covered politics and government in southern Colorado. Wilson earned a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and as a student she reported on Congress and other federal beats in Washington, D.C.

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