It’s fall, which means many Coloradoans will start getting notices about their company’s open enrollment period or Connect for Health Colorado.
Some of the notices will say something like, “Sign up for health care before the deadline,” or “Don’t forget to review your health options,” or “Access your health care online.”
These well-meaning and important notices often do more to confuse the conversation about health care access than anything else. Why? Because the terms health, health care, health insurance, health care coverage and health care access are often intermingled or even substituted for each other when, in fact, they have very different meanings. This was one of the important take-aways from a recent luncheon hosted by Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved and the event’s keynote speaker Liz Baxter, M.P.H. and executive director of the Oregon Public Health Institute.
Ms. Baxter pointed out that the public – or really anyone outside of the health care world – commonly, yet mistakenly, assume terms such as, “health care coverage” and “health care access” are the same thing. Too many Coloradans believe that because they have health care coverage they also have health care access. This is especially true for many of the tens of thousands of newly insured people across the state. The terms can be confusing, particularly to people new to the complicated health system.
Clearly, we have challenges communicating about the health care industry and that is further complicating people’s lives. Of course, some people are rightfully frustrated once they realize their health coverage doesn’t necessarily translate into access to health care. One of the barriers Coloradans may face in accessing health care is a lack of physicians, which is especially pointed in rural and low-income urban areas. If you live in a rural area, you may have a long wait to see a specialist or will have to travel to the Front Range for more advance care. Simply put, we do not have enough doctors in a large part of our state to provide heath care services to all Coloradans who have health care coverage.
Despite our challenges, some of the solutions are simple: We need to support the physicians who are serving our communities, and encourage more medical students to select primary care by providing financial incentives to practice in underserved areas. We need to look for ways to make delivering care easier for physicians while growing the number of providers so all Coloradans can move beyond being covered and into being cared.
One of the best ways you can help affect legislation to promote health care expansion into rural and under-served Colorado communities is to contact your legislator. You can use this LINK to find your legislator and we offer a sample letter.