According to recent data, only 42% of Coloradans were actually born in Colorado—one of the lowest percentages across the country. When I tell people I grew up in Lakewood, they're surprised to hear I'm a local because we're so few and far between. The state’s recent population surge, which has been concentrated along the Front Range, has only added to this dynamic.
Love it or hate it, Colorado’s growth is impacting residents—locals and transplants alike—across the state. Not only do we have to deal with small annoyances like heavy traffic and busy lines at the grocery store, we’re also faced with big environmental and social implications. Increased population density, especially in Denver, is taxing on our natural surroundings—more people with cars means higher levels of pollution. It’s also greatly impacting the housing market. The increased demand has resulted in a housing crisis for low- and middle-income families. As a result, our cities are seeing dramatic and rapid demographic shifts.
Population growth and demographic shifts not only affect our health and the health of our communities, but they also affect how we access health care services, especially for medically underserved Coloradans. Individuals and families who move into a new community might have to establish a new medical home, learn how to navigate a new enrollment and social services system, and build new relationships with providers. The supply of health care services may be unable to keep up with increasing demand, making it more difficult for residents to access care when and where they need it. Without the resources to seek other care options, the medically underserved face increasing difficulty getting their health care needs met as our population expands and shifts.
At CCMU, we’re all about the data, but we know that even the best data on the health care system can lag years behind the current reality. A safety net clinic might build a new clinic in a traditionally low-income and underserved neighborhood, based on the available data, which is likely a few years old, only to see the individuals who need their services most move to a community miles away before they can open their doors. That’s why we also place a high priority on visiting and working with communities. By talking directly to health care leaders and residents to round out our understanding of the needs on the ground, we can make smarter changes to the system.
In 2014, the first full year of implementation of the Affordable Care Act, we followed four communities through our Health is Local project, to assess the early impact of reforms and how they might differ across diverse communities. Before post-health reform data was released, we heard firsthand the impact coverage expansions were having on communities. We also heard of challenges around health insurance literacy, inability to pay copays and high deductibles, and workforce shortages—all challenges that have since been affirmed by recent data. This is the kind of real-time data that allows us to act sooner to address problems and make smarter decisions about where to deploy our limited resources.
Colorado has been a wonderful place to grow up and raise a family, so I understand the appeal my home state has to so many people. However, for those of us working to redesign and create a better health care system that is more responsive to community needs, we must examine how our population boom and demographic shifts are impacting communities across the state. Solely utilizing potentially out-of-date data is problematic. We commit to continuing to partner with communities and residents in our work to improve the health care system. We hope you’ll do the same.