A gentleman came to San Juan Basin Health Department last year for help applying for health insurance. He limped noticeably and winced in discomfort with each step.
As I offered him a chair, he told me that he needed surgery to repair an old injury. He had been in pain for several years.
It’s hard to believe that a person would go so long without treatment, but for many residents in La Plata and Archuleta counties, there are major barriers preventing access to health care. In spring 2012, an assessment of our community’s health needs identified one of this region’s biggest health issues as access to care. Barriers to care can include factors such as transportation, language difficulties and lack of knowledge about how to get care. One of the most frequent barriers is the cost of treatment.
In 2013, about 10,000 of our La Plata County neighbors did not have any health insurance. For many of these people, coverage was not affordable. The problem cut across economic lines, with affordability an issue for a range of income brackets.
Pre-existing conditions prevented many – those with higher incomes included – from accessing health insurance. When the Affordable Care Act became law, San Juan Basin Health opted to participate in the implementation of Colorado’s new health insurance marketplace, Connect for Health Colorado. Our goal has been to help as many people in our community as possible obtain affordable health insurance. With funding from Connect for Health Colorado, we have been able to increase public awareness of insurance options and provide application assistance as a free public service without using local or state taxpayer dollars.
The combined efforts of San Juan Basin Health and other local organizations have been more successful than originally hoped. At the end of the first year of enrollment, the number of uninsured people in La Plata County dropped by more than half. Since then, we have continued to provide application assistance and have helped reduce that number even further.
Medicaid is always available for those who qualify. Unless you have had a qualifying Life Change Event in the last 60 days, private health insurance is only available during part of the year. The next opportunity to enroll in private health insurance and apply for payment assistance will be from Nov. 1 through Feb. 15, 2016. Coverage can begin Jan. 1 or later. Enrollment will not reopen again until November 2016.
Most applicants receive at least some payment assistance, so we encourage those not yet insured to sign up now to ensure health care coverage.
San Juan Basin Health provides help with the application process by phone, email and face-to-face at no charge. Anyone with questions can call us at 335-2021.
The man with the limp? He enrolled in coverage, received care and had surgery. He came back to thank me a few months later without the limp; a life-changing difference.
After congratulating him on his progress, I asked what he was going to do next. He said, “I can’t wait to get back to work.”
Kevin O’Connor is a health coverage guide at San Juan Basin Health Department.