Health care still broken, but it’s getting better, speaker says

Clinic for uninsured to open next month

A doctor, the keynote speaker Tuesday at the third annual La Plata County Health Summit, had a threefold message: Health-care delivery can’t continue its present course; reform is possible and must start at the local level; and change won’t occur overnight.

Dr. Jay Want bracketed his talk with quotes from Will Rogers (“When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”) and Winston Churchill (“Americans will do the right thing after exhausting all the alternatives”).

An effort to get it right in Durango is set to begin next month when the La Plata County Community Clinic opens its doors. Initially, the clinic, at 1000 East Third Ave., Suite 103, will offer limited health and dental care.

Want is owner of Want Healthcare and immediate past board chairman of the nonprofit Center for Improving Value in Health Care in Colorado. The coalition of public-private interests is developing a five-year plan to reform delivery of and payment for health care in the state.

Fee-for-service reimbursement that started with President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program has made health-care inaccessible and unaffordable for many, Want said.

“A third-party payer with unsupervised funds resulted in bigger medical bills,” Want said. “There was a giant sucking sound as providers hooked a hose to business and government.”

In excess of 50 percent of reimbursement costs are driven by physician and hospital supply, Want said. The more service – the more tests and procedures – the more they get paid.

“The system wraps around doctors and hospitals instead of around the patient,” he said.

Provider-patient-payer coalitions, Want said, have improved health-care access, affordability and results, including a national model in Grand Junction.

The same interests can come together with the same results in La Plata County, he said. Joint planning and accountability is the answer.

The Citizens Health Advisory Council of La Plata County has been looking for an answer since 2001. It has seen the departure of a major provider, resulting in a loss of primary-care physicians, and the rejection by voters of a tax-supported health-care district.

The La Plata County Community Clinic is helped by a grant from the Karakin Foundation. Initially, volunteer health professionals will provide limited health and dental care.

The clinic will operate the equivalent of one day a week at first.

Uninsured and the poor will be treated, but all patients will pay something.

Harriet Brandstetter, director of La Clínica de Familia in Las Cruces, N.M., has been hired to oversee the Durango clinic. She will start Oct. 15.

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