Uninsured rate less in Mesa County

Mesa County residents lack health insurance at a rate lower than every Western Slope county and most of the counties across Colorado, according to Census data released Thursday.

Nearly 19 percent of the county’s adults, ages 18 to 64, lack health insurance coverage, according to data based on a 2005 survey, compared to nearly 20 percent of all Coloradans in the same age range.

Dr. Michael Pramenko, a local family physician, attributed Mesa County’s relatively low uninsurance rate to the area’s strong economy.

“Most folks get their insurance through their work, so those things are closely tied together,” Pramenko said. “As unemployment goes up, so does the uninsurance rate.”

Pramenko said when the local job market is strong — as it was in 2005, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment — health insurance coverage rises.

That said, Pramenko said the county does a great job of covering low-income individuals through Medicaid, thanks to coordination between Rocky Mountain Health Plans, local health providers and other health care providers.

The Census health coverage data shows Mesa County’s uninsurance rate, among adults ages 18 to 64 who make less than 250 percent of the federal poverty line, or income of about $53,000 for a four-person household, falls to 11.9 percent.

Steve ErkenBrack, vice president for government affairs at Rocky Mountain Health Plans, said that low uninsurance rate for low-income adults is a testament to Mesa County’s long-running commitment, whether through community clinics or other organizations, to deliver health care to those in need.

“For 30 years, we as a community have looked at how do we deliver health care for everybody, not just people that can comfortably afford insurance,” ErkenBrack said.

He said Rocky Mountain Health Plans, a Grand Junction-based nonprofit organization, tries to integrate the community’s health programs and link individuals with affordable insurance plans.

State Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, said even if Mesa County and Colorado have low percentages of their populations lacking health insurance, the uninsured need to be covered somehow.

“When they get sick, they tend to go to the emergency room,” Buescher said. “That drives cost all through the system.”

He said the uninsured also tend to not get preventative care that would catch diseases or other ailments before they become costly to fix.

Buescher, who used to head the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, said the state will make expanding the ranks of the health insured a priority next year and over the long term.


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