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Pitkin County Sees Spike in Medicaid Enrollees

Feb 26, 2014

During the last part of 2013 Pitkin County saw a jump in the number of people enrolling in Medicaid. They're also tracking how many people are purchasing insurance on the state exchange. They say many of those are likely low income.
Credit Creative Commons/Staff Sgt. Bernardo Fuller/U.S. Army

The Affordable Care Act is helping low income residents in the Roaring Fork Valley get health insurance. That’s according to officials who oversee programs for the poor. More people are signing up for Medicaid and others are purchasing insurance plans from the state exchange. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen reports.

In Pitkin County, the number of Medicaid patients jumped 20 percent since October. So, 90 more people are seeking care from doctors who will take them.

"That is a new phenomenon for us. In three months, we have not seen a jump like that," says Mitzi Ledingham, Deputy Director of Pitkin County Health and Human Services.

Colorado’s Medicaid expansion started January 1st so the number of individuals enrolled will likely grow even more. Ledingham says many of the area’s homeless are enrolled.

"That’s been one of the major struggles for the very poor homeless is they can perhaps find shelter and food, but they cannot afford medical care and their health issues are usually very severe."

Many doctors don’t take Medicaid patients because of the program’s dismal reimbursement so, Mountain Family Health Centers steps in. Their clinics across the Roaring Fork and Colorado River Valleys accept low-income patients. CEO Ross Brooks says their Medicaid patient count has grown.

"In 2013, we served a little over 13,000 individuals and we know that several hundred of them in the first months of this calendar year have gotten onto Medicaid."

He estimates his clinics are seeing 100 new patients a month partially because more people are using Medicaid. Other low-income residents are purchasing plans from the state’s insurance marketplace Connect for Health Colorado.

"We know that about 2000 individuals have enrolled in the health insurance exchange in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield Counties combined. And, that aggregation means that there’s about 2-thousand folks who found health insurance through the exchange that probably didn’t have health insurance previously."

For people making 400 percent above poverty level, health insurance plans on the marketplace come with tax credits. In Pitkin County, more than 600 people have purchased plans through the exchange. For those who don’t qualify for tax credits, the premiums are significantly more expensive than other parts of the state. Insurance companies say that’s because health care is more expensive here and state officials are investigating why that is.