While the number of people with insurance is on the rise across Colorado, the number of those who are struggling to pay for it also is increasing.
This is just one health-care challenge presented at the sixth annual Health Summit Thursday by Jeff Bontrager, director of research on coverage and accessibility with the Colorado Health Institute.
The summit hosted by the Community Health Action Coalition touched on insurance, regional health trends and other topics.
Since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, the percentage of people who have insurance in Colorado has risen from 4.4 million in 2011 to 4.9 million in 2015.
The majority of people across Colorado receive health care from their employers, Bontrager said. But many Coloradans have recently gained insurance through the expansion of Medicaid or Connect for Health Colorado, the state’s health-care exchange.
“We’ve seen record enrollment in Medicaid,” Bontrager said.
However, the percentage of those without insurance in Southwest Colorado is still above the state average.
The Colorado Health Institute estimates that between 9.6 and 13 percent of the population does not have insurance in Archuleta, La Plata, Montezuma, San Juan and Dolores counties.
Still, Dr. Emily Burns, who works at Mercy Regional Medical Center, offered up a hopeful anecdote. She said she hasn’t seen anyone without insurance in the last year.
While the Affordable Care Act set out to make insurance more attainable, there is a rising number of people with unaffordable plans.
The trend is apparent for those with Medicaid, employer-sponsored plans and those who bought a plan from the state health-care exchange.
The institute refers to those with plans they cannot afford as the underinsured population. These people spend more than 10 percent of their income on medical costs.
Low-income individuals who spend 5 percent of their income on medical costs also fall into this category.
“If you’re spending a significant amount of your income on health care, ... that’s leaving less room for other necessities,” he said.
He sees better consumer education as an important step to lower the number of people who are underinsured.
Aside from having a high percentage of people without insurance, the southwest corner of the state tends to have healthier habits than the rest of Colorado.
The five-county region tends to have a lower percentage of binge drinkers, smokers and adults who are obese than the rest of the state.
Residents in the area are also more physically active. About 65 percent of adults get adequate physical activity compared with 61 percent of adults across the state.
News about the next generation isn’t as rosy, because about 1 in 4 children in La Plata County and across the state are obese or overweight, said Jenny Pritchard, a dietitian with the San Juan Basin Health Department.
Workplace wellness programs are one way to work toward greater community health and control insurance costs, Bontrager said.
But research shows results are mixed. One 10-year study by the Rand Corporation showed a strong return after investing in disease-management programs.
These programs remind people to take medications or attend follow-up appointments, and the company received $3.80 of return for every dollar invested. While a lifestyle program that included health coaching and education materials only returned 50 cents for every dollar.
While considering implementing these programs, Bontrager urges employers to be pragmatic.
“You need to consider your employees’ willingness to participate,” he said.
This story has been updated to accurately describe weight problems among children locally and across the state.