Colorado has long been one of the healthiest states in the country, which has helped us manage our healthcare costs. Even with healthcare costs that have quadrupled over the last 20 years, we still enjoy modest healthcare spending compared to the rest of the country. Yet, there are reasons to believe that more and more state residents will continue to lose access to healthcare due to rising costs and rising demand for health services overall.

 

A Variety of Challenges for Colorado Healthcare Affordability

Investing in and efficiently delivering modern medical technologies is complicated by the geography of the Rocky Mountains, as well as the rural plains in the eastern part of the state. This is especially a problem in Summit County and many of the other ski resort towns in the Rocky Mountains, where Colorado residents are faced with some of the highest health insurance premiums in the country—despite being healthy overall—due to the cost of delivering these services in a remote area that nevertheless has a consistent demand for services.

 

Population growth and demographical change is a challenge in a lot of places, but Colorado, and Denver in particular, is facing quite the 1-2 punch in terms of fast population growth and an aging population that’s beginning to demand more health services, especially in home healthcare. The supply of health providers and health professionals is beginning to run dangerously low. In a period of protracted employee recruitment efforts, health providers must make a big effort just to maintain minimal staffing levels. It’s not unusual for there to be thousands of job openings just for nurses, just in the Denver area. And that makes the whole system less efficient.

 

How Long can Hospital Care Savings Offset Other Increases?

As with other states, one of the big ways that Colorado has been managing the increasing demand for healthcare services overall is to rely less and less on hospital care, where a disproportionate amount of health resources is spent. From unnecessary ER care to the long-term benefits of preventative care, it’s avoiding the high costs of hospital-based care that is responsible for much of these cost savings. Which begs the question: How much better can we get at minimizing the need for hospitalizations? How much further can medical technologies go in delivering healthcare outside of the hospital? How much more efficient can hospitals themselves get?

 

There are no easy answers to these questions, and it’s not as though the cost offsets ever enough. (Again, healthcare costs have quadrupled over the last two decades and continue climbing.) What’s worrisome is the idea of what will happen to our overall healthcare costs if we max out our efficiency improvements in hospital care? Is Colorado facing a healthcare access bubble in which our healthcare cost inflation eventually puts basic healthcare out of reach for a huge swath of our residents? If so, our health outcomes are sure to decline as a result.

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