Health care advocates, providers and experts came together at our Consumer Voices for Coverage Conference this week. The conference inspired many thoughtful conversations about Colorado’s work to move forward on health reform, both our own state efforts and Obamacare (Affordable Care Act). While many of us hoped we would hear more about Colorado’s plans for the Medicaid expansion created by Obamacare, it was not to be. We heard from Governor Hickenlooper’s staff that the Administration is still looking at the costs to do it, and waiting for the federal government (Department of Health and Human Services) to give states more guidance on the Supreme Court decision.  We heard from many attendees (and we agree) that they support Colorado moving forward on this new program. The goal of Obamacare is increased access to health care for all Coloradans, which includes implementing this affordable option that could help so many Colorado families.

The Conference Highlights:

The conference began with a discussion by Joint Budget Commitee Chairman Senator Pat Steadman and Governor Hickenlooper’s Chief of Staff Roxane White. They discussed the slow but steady improvement of Colorado’s economy, the state budget and the state’s payment reforms in public health programs, which aim to improve efficiency and services. Ms. White stressed that health care reform in Colorado includes both “quality” improvement and increased “quantity” which includes increasing number of people with health coverage.  However, these were both overshadowed by concerns with costs.

The conference also included some great break-out sessions with health care reform experts in Colorado.  The first two panels discussed the Obamacare’s major avenues to increase access to health coverage: the Medicaid program and the Colorado Health Benefits Exchange.  The panelists included experts from advocacy organizations, non-profit insurance companies, community health centers and staff from the Colorado Health Benefits Exchange.  From these panelists attendees learned about the many initiatives of the Medicaid program and the Colorado Exchange’s fast-paced building schedule (its supposed to start enrolling people by October 2013), which includes creating the website for people to buy insurance plans that have been approved by the Exchange.

Later panels in the day also included discussions about the Exchange’s Navigator program that will help outreach to and enroll people, how to message around Medicaid to help the public truly understand the people and needs it serves, and a panel on Obamacare’s private insurance consumer protections, like the prohibition on denials of coverage by insurers for people with pre-existing conditions, requiring insurers to cover certain essential health services, and limits on rate increases.

Another important discussion in reforming health care in Colorado, is about our own health equity landscape.  For example, Colorado Latinos are more likely to be uninsured. About one of every three Hispanics (34%) is uninsured compared to 14 percent of non-Hispanic blacks and 13 percent of non-Hispanic whites. (Colorado Health Institute, Colorado’s Health Care Safety Net) Also many communities of color have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes and many more chronic conditions. While health insurance is important to an individual’s health, so are the social determinants of their health in their lives – from the neighborhoods they live in to the opportunities they have to learn about healthy living. To further this discussion the CVC conference was honored to have as our keynote speaker, Mauricio Palacio, Director of the Office of Health Disparities at the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. Mr. Palacio highlighted the national efforts being made to recognize, research and coordinate responses to the health inequities in the United States.  Mr. Palacio also discussed the Affordable Care Act provisions that are targeted to improve health disparities nationwide, including HHS’s Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Disparities. The plan includes the ACA’s emphasis on coverage of preventive health, more coordinated health care, new coverage options for lower-income uninsured Americans and recruiting and educating more people of color to work in the health care field. Mr. Palacio finished his remarks with this powerful quote from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, “For the first time, the United States has a coordinated road map designed to give everyone the chance to live a healthy life.” 

Our Final Stop: Colorado’s health care future depends on implementing the Affordable Care Act

Its time for us all to get on the train that will deliver all Coloradans to accessible and affordable health care, and that train is health care reform. 

Below are the powerpoint presentations, fact sheets, agenda & bios from the conference.  




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