ICYMI: The ‘Public Option’ Ignores Rural Communities’ Unique Healthcare Needs

DENVER, Colo. – With 47 of Colorado’s 64 counties – 77 percent of Colorado’s landscape – considered rural or frontier, “doctors, nurses and hospitals are the cornerstone of Colorado’s diverse healthcare system, and for rural communities, they often mean even more,” Cathy Shull, executive director of Pro15, writes in the Fort Morgan Times.

Rural healthcare providers make significant sacrifices to create access to critical services that individuals and families would have to travel long distances for otherwise. They are economic contributors, lifelines to preventative and behavioral health resources, and, perhaps above all, they are friends and neighbors,” Shull adds.

She writes, “The COVID-19 crisis has amplified the essential role that rural providers serve, but also the significant financial challenges and operational limitations.” As of July 2020, the Colorado Rural Health Center reported 46 percent of Colorado’s rural hospitals are operating at a negative margin and revenue projections indicate steep declines over the next year.

Sadly, Colorado lawmakers could leave rural communities further at risk,” warns Shull. “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials and lawmakers were pushing for a new state government health insurance option that recommended limiting rates to healthcare providers. Simply put, such a move could be detrimental to rural hospitals and healthcare workers.

A new report, conducted by FTI Consulting for Colorado’s Health Care Future, finds a state government option could further burden Colorado’s integrated health care system. A state government option could financially impact 78 percent of all Colorado hospitals – particularly the 22 high-risk hospitals across the state, nine of which are in counties with racial and ethnic minority populations that are larger than the state average. The report highlights the health care challenges in rural communities, stating “Ethnic and racial minority populations in rural areas of the state are especially vulnerable.

Rural hospitals across the country are on life support. Nearly a quarter of rural hospitals nationally are on the brink of closing, reported Becker’s Hospital Review” Shull continues.

Shull points to an “idea previously pitched by some officials, so-called ‘carveouts’ for rural hospitals do not shield from the impacts of a public option and will only cause a catastrophic blow later down the road. Colorado’s hospitals do not operate in a silo; our healthcare system is fully integrated. Yet, rural residents are asked to trust that officials will be able to account for the countless conditions unique to each rural community.

Rural hospitals are not healthcare warehouses or medical treatment factories. They are fundamental to communities’ public health. And they are invested in the doctors and nurses who work tireless to create access to high-quality care, particularly amid a pandemic. And their investment doesn’t stop at their local community either,” writes Shull.

She explains, “Last year, Colorado’s hospitals paid $40 million into the state’s reinsurance program, which has reduced health insurance premiums by almost 21 percent for 2021 alone. Rural counties on the Western Slope and southwest Colorado, are projected to save nearly 38 percent over what premiums would have been without the program. Not to mention, many of those rural counties will see an increase in plan choicewith at least two carriers offering plans on the individual insurance market.

Our unified healthcare system is much larger than one physician, one hospital and one health system… By our healthcare leaders and state officials collaborating and working together broadly across the state, patients receive better care, and ultimately, lives are saved,” Shull notes.

“Although it is often challenging, Colorado’s rural healthcare networks are on the right path.”

Schull concludes, “Coloradans shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality of care, access to care and their insurance coverage on a short-sighted solution to a complex issue. Lawmakers can do better and find solutions that will not put an unsustainable burden on Colorado’s healthcare system and rural communities. A public option insurance option is too consequential to be left to chance.”

To read Cathy Shull’s full opinion piece published by the Fort Morgan TimesCLICK HERE.