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Community Health Centers Seeing Increase in Uninsured Patients

Colorado's community health centers serve medical, dental and behavioral patients regardless of ability to pay and offer a sliding-fee discount for low-income patients who can't afford private insurance co-pays. (Pxhere)
Colorado's community health centers serve medical, dental and behavioral patients regardless of ability to pay and offer a sliding-fee discount for low-income patients who can't afford private insurance co-pays. (Pxhere)
October 3, 2019

OLATHE, Colo. – The latest Colorado Health Institute survey found the number of people in the state without health coverage was holding steady at around 6%.

But for Colorado's community health centers, uninsured rates are on the rise.

At River Valley Family Health Center, which serves Delta, Montrose and Olathe, the number of uninsured patients rose by 4% in 2018.

Jeremy Carroll, CEO of River Valley Family Health Center, says because centers offer discounted fees for people without insurance, that bump is significant.

"We only charge $15 on a medical visit for anyone who is under 100% of the federal poverty level,” he explains. “That cost to River Valley is significantly more, $150 or $160, so we have to write off that difference."

Community health centers cared for 40% of Colorado's uninsured in 2018, and in some centers, 85% of patients don't have insurance.

Coverage by Medicaid also dropped significantly last year, by 2%.

Carroll says since centers rely on Medicaid reimbursements to defray the costs of uninsured care, that revenue loss can make it difficult to continue providing services.

Community health centers also have seen a spike in the number of patients scared to stay enrolled in Medicaid, and keep their children enrolled, due to concerns about a new federal public charge rule.

The rule has changed the way people who are planning to apply for a Green Card access public benefits, and some patients are avoiding regular check-ups.

Carroll says continuity of care is important for patients' well-being, especially for people with conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.

"And if they don't come in until they're really, really bad, it takes months to get them stabilized again, or, worst case scenario, we're going to have to put them in the hospital,” he points out. “That costs the system much more money."

Other results of the Colorado Health Institute survey mirror what centers are seeing statewide: a rise in the number of patients accessing medical, dental and behavioral health.

Between 2014 and 2018, more than half of the state's safety net centers added behavioral health care, and more than a third of centers added onsite oral health services.

Disclosure: Colorado Community Health Network contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Poverty Issues, Smoking Prevention, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO