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Survey suggests majority of La Plata County residents want universal health care

Respondents dissatisfied with private insurance, delayed seeking medical care because of costs
A La Plata County survey indicates a majority of residents want an improvement in availability of local physicians and hospitals, as well as overall affordable health care coverage. (Associated Press file)

Dissatisfaction in La Plata County’s health care system was evident in a recent survey conducted by the League of Women Voters of La Plata County from March to September, which asked residents to give their opinions and experiences on the local physicians, hospitals and insurance companies.

The survey was anonymous and garnered a total of 546 responses from a variety of local demographics. The majority of respondents were older La Plata County residents with nearly 40% having a household income of $100,000 or more.

“We did skew a little bit to an older group of people, and a lot of them are on Medicare,” said Jan Phillips, health care Advocacy and Action Committee chair for the League of Women Voters. “People who are using health care services and have a little higher income level (answered the survey). There were so many concerns and issues that are pretty reflective of the needs of our health care system.”

Those respondents who have private health insurance were 65% less satisfied with their coverage compared to those with 70% public health insurance, such as Medicare and Medicaid. The most common complaint among those with private health insurance were the high cost of insurance premiums, deductibles and co-payments. Fifty-eight percent avoided seeking medical care as a result of those costs, whereas only 37% of those with public health care avoided seeking medical care because of cost reasons.

As one respondent said in the comments section of the survey, “There are plenty of elective surgeries that I would like to get done (vasectomy, knee, etc.) but burden of cost prevents me from seeking a better quality of life.”

Another respondent commented that he or she simply refrained from taking prescription medication because of the high cost.

“I try not to take prescription drugs because they are too expensive and don’t fit in my budget,” the respondent said.

A third respondent said he or she turns to Canada for prescription medication.

“I get my hormone replacement meds from a licensed Canadian pharmacy. Excellent! Good prices, great service, same drugs from the same companies. Have done this for 10 years.”

Satisfaction with local physicians and hospitals, as well as availability, was also given low to moderate ratings by La Plata County residents. The quality of local physicians and hospitals fared a little better with a high rating of 39%, though 25% of respondents still gave it a low rating. The lowest ratings were given to the availability and the length of time to get an appointment to see local physicians. Accessibility to a full array of health care services in La Plata County was also a concern.

“I think any system that moves us toward universal care is vital,” said one respondent.

Another respondent pointed out the problem with not being able to qualify with any insurance companies.

“The reason my husband and I (age 64 and 62) have no medical insurance is because we don’t fit the mold for The Affordable Care Act, and we do not qualify for eligibility with the independent insurance companies. We are too old, make too much money, and live rurally,” they said.

When asked whether health care was a human right, 87% of respondents agreed, while 8% remained neutral on the question and 6% disagreed. Fewer respondents agreed that health care should be a nonprofit industry, with 73% agreeing and 10% disagreeing. Seventy-seven percent of respondents agreed, however, that a universal health care system should be established. Eighty-two percent of respondents also believe the government should be able to negotiate drug prices for Medicare, and 65% believe Medicare needs to be expanded to American citizens 50 and over.

“Many times, instead of going to the doc,” commented one respondent, “I just wait and see if whatever malady gets better.”

Phillips said the sentiments of those in La Plata County are probably no different from those of the rest of the county.

“I have a feeling we're not that dissimilar nationwide of what's going on in health care,” Phillips said. “It's discouraging. It's sad, especially in rural areas.”

Now that the League of Women Voters has a cross-section on La Plata County residents’ opinions and experiences of the local health care system, it plans to move forward with forming a coalition of local community leaders, businesses and other health care-engaged groups to explore potential solutions to health care issues.

“Hopefully, the coalition will have different subgroups working on different areas,” Phillips said. “We'd love to have the local community members involved, letting us know what their specific needs are. If they want to hear what's going on, we're hoping to be very public with what we're doing.”

Phillips also encourages La Plata County residents to become involved in the process of improving local health care.

The (respondents) comments were very telling, and that's where we were able to find a lot of the specific concerns of people, which spanned every economic level,” Phillips said. “There weren’t a whole lot of people real satisfied with the way things are working now. We want to have that kind of input from the community. If there's an area we're not addressing that they're having difficulties with, we'd like to hear about that, too.”

Details of the survey and its results can be found on the LWVLPC website.

molsen@durangoherald.com

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