With more Coloradans Insured, more Doctors Are Needed

With the Affordable Care Act taking hold in Colorado, including the expansion of Medicaid benefits to the previously uninsured, the Colorado Health Institute conducted a study to determine whether there are enough primary care physicians to care for all the  new patients.

This was an "apples-to-apples" comparison of current conditions in each county across the state, said Rebecca Alderfer, the study’s lead author. At the root of the study were questions about what additional medical workforce would be needed as more Coloradans gain insurance.

The short answer is that plenty more resources will be needed, at least in some areas of the state.

Using a benchmark of 1,900 people for every full-time primary care doctor, the survey found that the ski mecca counties of Eagle, Pitkin, Summit and Grand are among locales in the state with a shortage. Those counties and others need to boost their rosters of primary care physicians by 30 percent if they're going to meet the needs of their population, according to the institute’s analysis.

The mountain resort regions weren’t the only ones that fell short of this standard. The "need help" regions include the counties of Cheyenne, Elbert, Kit Carson and Lincoln, which need to triple their doctors to meet the need. Even urban areas like El Paso and Douglas counties have shortages.

Colorado has the full-time equivalent of 2,812 practicing primary care physicians, enough for each doctor to care for 1,873 patients, the study found, very close to the benchmark number.

But, delving deeper, the study found that 12 regions clearly have enough primary care physicians, nine others - many in the rural and mountain areas - do not. In total, these nine regions need an additional 258 full-time primary care physicians to reach the benchmark panel size.

Rebecca Alderfer Rebecca Alderfer

Colorado Health Institute also looked at Medicaid capacity across the state, and found shortages in the number of doctors willing to take the public insurance. Denver, Adams and Arapahoe counties were among the places with a shortage of Medicaid providers.

And speaking of gaining insurance, some of the same counties with doctor shortages also have the costliest insurance premiums. At $483 a month for the cheapest silver plan offered on the state exchange, the mountain resort region has the most expensive insurance rate in the nation, according to a recent analysis by Kaiser Health News.

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