Kim Bimestefer on “The State of Colorado Health Care”
Kim Bimestefer was the Morning Keynote speaker for State of Reform’s Colorado Health Policy Conference. The Director of the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF) shared her thoughts on the state’s current healthcare issues.
The coronavirus pandemic is putting a strain on the state’s hospital system, Bimestefer said. Hospitals are reaching capacity while the workforce numbers are decreasing.
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To accommodate the surge, Colorado opened several alternate care sites. The Colorado Convention Center can hold up to 2,000 beds. St. Anthony North Hospital and St. Mary Corwin have also been established as alternate care facilities.
Some Coloradans who are vulnerable to the virus should take extra precautions, Bimestefer said. Gatherings in “residential congregate settings” are particularly vulnerable. As of Nov. 6th, there have been 239 outbreaks in residential care facilities.
A Residential Care Strikeforce coordinated with HCPF to help vulnerable populations protect themselves. The strikeforce monitors cases within residential care settings, provides PPE, and educates vulnerable individuals about infection control and prevention.
“That strikeforce, which is co-chaired by leaders in our department of public health and environment, has received AARP recognition as the model for others across the country to follow, and we are so proud of that. The results of it are outstanding and exemplary.”
Bimestefer warned against over-congregating during the holiday season. The day before Thanksgiving is always the busiest travel day of the year and when the risk of spreading the virus will be higher, according to Bimestefer.
“During this Thanksgiving season, we need folks to congregate.and celebrate only with their immediate households,” said Bimestefer. “Change this tradition, please, and celebrate remotely.”
Bimestefer also discussed Colorado’s economy and the Affordable Care Act. 672,000 Colorodans have received unemployment insurance due to job loss. This is 22% of the state’s 2019 workforce. 40% of Coloradans receive affordable health care through the ACA, and the state risks losing $2 billion in federal funding for health care expansion if the ACA is repealed, she said.
She also mentioned the possibility of a public option being put in place to address the lack of health care expansion.
“The lack of affordability, the affordability crisis, is inside the private system, not the public system,” she said. “So it is time to recognize and have more discussions on a public option that leverages the strengths of the public market and our affordability capabilities to bring those solutions into the private market to help bring care to bring more affordability for the betterment of Colorodans.”
Bimestefer explained affordable health care has bipartisan support and that both parties are looking at the data to see what areas cost the state the most money. They identified prescription drugs and hospital spending as the most costly areas.
She suggested importing prescription drugs from other countries and hospital-community collaboration as cost-saving solutions. The Colorado Hospital Transformation Program was also created to address this problem.
According to her, lower income people and women are being hit the hardest by the job losses caused by the pandemic. People with lower incomes are less financially stable when they lose their jobs and women are often unable to balance child care with work and leave their jobs.
On a positive note, Colorado seems to be recovering from the pandemic-induced recession faster than the rest of the country.
“Our recovery rate is about 66% compared to the nation’s 54%,” she said.
The $1.2 billion stimulus included in Governor Polis’ 2020-2021 budget that can be applied directly toward recovery efforts, she said. She encourages legislators to pass reinsurance legislation to improve the state’s insurance market. Coloradans buying individual health plans under this legislation will see a 1.4% decrease in their premiums in 2021.
“I also want to call out Commissioner Conway, working with the Governor’s Office, and elected officials to pass the reinsurance legislation because that reinsurance program is saving about 40% on the western slope and 21% in the individual marketplace, and that is outstanding,” Bimestefer said.
Meanwhile, substance abuse is increasing. The state recorded 128 overdose deaths in May 2020, compared to 73 in May 2019.
Colorado struggles with health care disparities, particularly in communities of color. For example, Hispanics are 20% more likely to die of treatable conditions than whites. Blacks represent 10% of hospitalizations and 7% of deaths from COVID despite only making up 5% of the population.
From a public health perspective, this is a historic moment, she said.
“In my 34 years as a professional in executive health care, I’ve never seen so much going on.” she said.
The HCPF will hold a Health Policy Conference on Thursday, Dec. 17th to discuss these topics further and update Coloradans on the COVID-19 response.