Fredrickson: High costs in Colorado show need for system overhaul

Michelle Fredrickson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.  

Healthcare is expensive. But, here in Colorado, healthcare is even more expensive. Healthcare costs in Colorado are 17 percent higher than average, according to a new study. For outpatient services, that number is even higher – 30 percent above average.

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The entire state is more expensive than the average, with the highest costs found on the eastern plains and the Western Slope. Fort Collins is just about average in healthcare spending for Colorado, but that’s still significantly higher than the averages. The study, done by the Network for Regional Healthcare Improvement, compared Colorado to Minnesota, Oregon, Utah, and Maryland, and found that Colorado had the worst costs.

Two factors tend to drive up the cost of healthcare: High levels of use, and high costs of services. Usually, as one goes up the other goes down. In Oregon’s case, the high pricing was cancelled out entirely by lower use. Not in Colorado’s case.

Map of Colorado showing costs by district
Health costs in Colorado are out of control. Map courtesy of the Center for Improving Value in Health Care

In some regions, like the mountain regions, healthcare costs are high, which drives up spending. In other regions, like southern Colorado, the frequency with which people use them are driving costs up.

Colorado has been an area in need of a major health system overhaul for a while, because something needs to be done to keep these prices down. People are being priced out of healthcare. That is something that should not be happening in the 21st century. Last year, the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care wrote that state officials would need to show “extraordinary public leadership” to keep health costs from becoming so high nobody could access health services.

The fact is that the many factors contributing to Colorado’s skyrocketing health costs are not solvable by single acts of policy. Increasing transparency would help; the lack of transparency in hospital costs and the number of clinics associated with hospitals and thus charging these fees make it difficult to find low-cost providers. Increasing subsidies for insurers so more people could access care would help, too. But it won’t solve the problem.

The government could try to pass some individual pieces of legislation that will address segments of this issue, but the solution that would be best for the people is a complete healthcare overhaul in Colorado.

You can’t repair a house that is built on broken foundations. Colorado needs to recognize that its healthcare foundations are broken, and start from the bottom up to create a healthcare system that doesn’t price out its citizens.

Colorado tried to pass ColoradoCare in 2016, a universal healthcare measure for the state. Though the bill failed, activists are working to find other solutions that would still guarantee everyone access to healthcare, because access to healthcare is a human right according to the United Nations and World Health Organization.

Jared Polis, a Democratic candidate for governor, is using universal healthcare as a platform for his gubernatorial race. He proposes a multi-state alliance with other Western states suffering from the same things causing Colorado costs to skyrocket.

Polis doesn’t provide enough details on his plan to really assess its feasibility, but the overall message is a good one. This study illustrates once again the need for some kind of universal healthcare system, whether that is a single-payer system, a Medicare-for-all system, a subsidized individual mandate system, or something else.

You can’t repair a house that is built on broken foundations. Colorado needs to recognize that its healthcare foundations are broken, and start from the bottom up to create a healthcare system that doesn’t price out its citizens. As we head into midterm elections, keep Colorado’s high costs in mind when you cast your vote.

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Michelle Fredrickson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @mfredrickson42