Cancer weighs heavy on me. Over the last fifteen years, I have had many friends and relatives who have battled various forms of cancer. Some have won. Others, despite their best efforts and great health care services, have not been able to overcome their disease.
Most recently, I have had three friends diagnosed with cancer. These women have insurance and had access to primary and preventive services that led to early diagnosis and the ability to pursue the appropriate treatments. My friends have been on my mind as health care leaders in Colorado continue to debate the importance of health insurance and the impact of the recent expansions of coverage through Connect for Health Colorado and Medicaid.
Part of the debate that has been most intriguing has been the conversation about the impact of life circumstances, such as our family income, race and ethnicity, and where we live on our health, versus the impact of the availability of health insurance coverage and needed care. I have even heard some leaders question if having more people have health insurance really matters, given the evidence about the impact of the social determinants of health on a person’s overall health status.
Health insurance matters. Health insurance matters for my three friends currently battling cancer and health insurance matters for hundreds of thousands more Coloradans. At CCMU, we regularly get calls from Coloradans without health insurance who are struggling to access needed health care services. We’ve heard from an individual with cataracts that are leading to blindness, a person with rapidly-progressing early onset dementia attempting to find and coordinate his own care, from a person with a shoulder that dislocated every time she made a sudden move, and many more—all uninsured. All of these individuals were struggling to access health care services to address urgent health care needs.
In addition to struggling to address urgent health care needs, the data is very clear that, “uninsured people are less likely to get recommended care for disease prevention, such as cancer screenings, and for disease management such as diabetes care management.”In addition, the 2013 Colorado Health Access Survey shows that nearly 75 percent of Coloradans with health insurance agreed that the current health care system is meeting the needs of their family, compared to 34 percent of Coloradans without health insurance.
At CCMU we have made the commitment to work on addressing the social determinants of health AND to making improvements to the health care system. The work is vast, and as a small nonprofit, we have to be highly strategic and prioritize; however, even when we prioritize we are careful not to diminish the importance of other areas of work. I am hopeful that health care leaders in Colorado can continue to work together to concurrently address these issues, recognizing their equal importance to our state’s future, and the future of all our friends, families, and neighbors.