Jared Polis, Democrat candidate for Colorado governor, hosted a Delta health care town hall at the Wild Flower Bistro in Delta on July 3. Over 70 people attended.
Polis introduced himself and his running mate, Dianne Primavera. "Solving health care problems in rural Colorado is a major concern for me and for Dianne," Polis said.
"In rural Colorado, there simply aren't enough doctors and providers to bring high-quality care to communities across the state. According to a recent study, insurance costs in western Colorado are over $1,000 above the state average.
"Health care in Colorado is about life or death," Polis said.
Polis announced Primavera as his choice for a running mate on July 2. Denver Business Journal wrote on July 3, "The selection of Dianne Primavera elevates health care to the forefront of the gubernatorial race."
Primavera serves as the director of Komen Colorado, the breast cancer fighting organization. She is a breast cancer survivor.
Primavera is also a former Colorado legislator, serving District 33. She is a counselor by profession.
Three health care providers spoke out at the July 3 town hall.
Jeremy Carroll, CEO of River Valley Family Health Center, which provides primary health care in Montrose, Olathe and Delta, spoke first. He said River Valley provides a full scope of health services, including mental health, access to special care, cardiology, and dermatology.
Carroll said, "There are not enough specialists in town for our service area. We have to send patients to Grand Junction and Denver. Thirty percent of our patients have no insurance."
Dr. Mark Carlton, director of pharmacy at Delta County Memorial Hospital, spoke of the burden of the costs of drugs for DCMH patients, "brought to you by the pharmaceutical industry," and asked the candidates to help reduce that cost of drugs.
Carlton also spoke of the costs to patients when there is no local doctor who can provide extended care. When a patient has to drive 160 miles roundtrip to Grand Junction every two weeks for treatments, not only is the patient inconvenienced, but the patient's support people have to take time off from work and sit through the treatments. He stressed the need to have nurses and doctors caring for patients locally.
Dorothy Pew, manager of HopeWest Delta, asked for the candidates' help with the regulatory burden, which she said is overwhelming for management of small nonprofit organizations. "A young lady in my office had to spend 26 hours on the phone to get one bill straightened out," she said.
"Please sort out the regulatory burden," Pew emphasized.
Polis asked for a show of hands for those having trouble getting in to see a doctor.
Several hands went up, with one person saying the Delta hospital didn't renew contracts with three doctors and it took her five months to get in to see a new doctor.
Polis noted that in the Denver area all the hospitals are expanding. With 51 percent of its patients under Medicaid, Delta County Memorial Hospital isn't in a position to expand, nor are other rural hospitals. We need better transparency on the difficulty in being able to expand in areas where expansion is needed, he said.
Polis also said he would like to see better access to telemedicine.
People spoke out about the cost of health insurance.
One woman said she had been on her husband's insurance. Her husband died, she moved to Delta County from the Front Range, and the cost for her obtaining health insurance is $1,700 a month, which she cannot afford.
Dick Gilmore said his wife has chronic lymphocytic
leukemia. About every three years she needs treatment. If the treatment is IV chemo, it is covered by Medicare Part B. In the fall of 2016 her doctor prescribed a new oral wonder drug, Imbruvica. An oral drug is covered by Medicare Part D. The price of the oral drugs was $10,000 per month. The next year a friend in Cedaredge was prescribed the same drug and the price had risen to $16,000 a month.
One audience member asked, "Will we have to move to other parts of the state in order to get insurance coverage?
"We appreciate so much you being here and listening to us. What can you do for us?" she asked Polis.
Polis said Colorado should reconsider geographic price ratings for health care, including a single statewide rating, in an effort to lower costs.
"Dianne and I will be a strong voice for health care in Colorado," Polis said, and thanked those attending for a warm Delta reception.
Primavera also thanked those attending and added, "And thanks to the Hospice people, too."
Jared Polis currently represents northern Colorado in the United States House of Representatives. In 2000 he was elected to the Colorado Board of Education and served as chairman of the board. He also founded and ran several nonprofit schools for at risk children and served as superintendent of the New America School, which helps new immigrants earn their high school diplomas. Polis is an entrepreneur, having started several successful businesses.