Colorado already leading way on health reform

The nation’s ailing health care system faces unsustainable cost increases and growing numbers of uninsured. These trends must be addressed with solutions based on solid policy, not partisan politics. This is even more challenging in a time when we are confronted with the worst economy in over seven decades. However, in Colorado, we have been quietly and significantly making progress on the road to thoughtful reform, based on a bipartisan blueprint created by the Commission for Health Care Reform.

Colorado’s health care reform plan works directly with patients, doctors, nurses, clinics and hospitals to build a sustainable system that will continue to help the state’s residents stay healthy long into the future. This is a plan based on areas of excellence that already exist in Colorado.

In Grand Junction, for example, we provide access for every person in town through a nonprofit health plan that guarantees prenatal care for every pregnant woman, and has reduced unnecessary hospital readmissions. Grand Junction has a patient-centered clinic for the uninsured, all using a communitywide Health Information Technology Exchange that maximizes efficiency and quality. Other Colorado communities have also received national recognition for their innovative efforts.

Seeking to build off these successful models, an additional 100,000 Colorado children have received quality health care coverage in the past three years, thanks to Ritter administration initiatives. We have also improved the quality of care for children by providing continuity of care and increasing the number of children receiving immunizations.

Last year, we worked together to pass the Colorado Healthcare Affordability Act, creating a new partnership among Colorado hospitals, including The Children’s Hospital and state and the federal governments, to improve quality and provide coverage to more than 100,000 mothers, children, people with disabilities and other uninsured Coloradans.

Such accomplishments don’t occur with a stroke of a pen. They are built by working together over time. Taking this long-term approach is not easy, as budgets are being squeezed and more people are finding themselves without access to affordable care.

National health care reform presents an opportunity for communities in states like Colorado to finish the work. Federal efforts will promote the long-term health of patients, not just the quick fixes. In reforming the health care system, we will be able to limit payments to doctors and hospitals for unnecessary hospital stays and tests and increase payments for healthy outcomes. We will be able to continue to invest in health information, and simplify and streamline health care bureaucracy.

In moving forward, there are three key points for successful reform:

First, we need to work together to deliver better value for each health care dollar.

Second, we need to create a culture of health with a focus on healthy living and wellness.

Third, we need to expand access to basic health care that is affordable.

Despite the historic significance of federal health care reform, Congress cannot attain these goals alone. Transformation must also be built at the community level by all parties working in collaboration to improve cost, quality and access.

This commitment transcends politics, and is one that we believe will pay off in both the fiscal and personal health of our state and its residents. Here is the key: If people are healthier, it costs us all less money. Higher quality, better health, less cost — that should not be a partisan fight; it should be a Colorado commitment. It’s time we all work toward that goal.

Dr. Jim Shmerling is the CEO of The Children’s Hospital in Denver, Steve ErkenBrack is the president of Rocky Mountain Health Plans, based in Grand Junction and Bill Ritter is Colorado’s 41 governor.


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