Help Wanted: Ski Mecca, Rural Counties Need more Primary Care Doctors

The Colorado Health Institute has conducted a study to determine whether there are enough primary care physicians in the state to care for all the patients newly-insured under the Affordable Care Act.

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 will be needed as more Coloradans gain insurance, including the expansion of Medicaid benefits to the previously uninsured

The short answer is that more doctors are needed, including in some famous Colorado locales.

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 the benchmark. The “help wanted” regions include Cheyenne, Elbert, Kit Carson and Lincoln counties, 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 while some counties clearly have enough primary care physicians and more, many in the rural and mountain areas  do not. The study concluded that an additional 258 full-time primary care physicians are need to bring all counties up to the benchmark.

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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