Last week, I was sitting in a waiting room, antsy for my name to be called and to get my appointment over with. I was especially impatient because I had scheduled the appointment three weeks prior and had been promised I would be out of there within two hours, which wasn’t happening. Waiting lists, waiting rooms—you’ve heard all this before, right? Well, I wasn’t waiting for a doctor to call my name this time—I was waiting for the mechanic to finish my car repairs. After checking all my emails and reading every magazine in the building, I couldn’t help but reflect on the waiting game that achieving adequate access to health care has become.
What does it mean to have adequate access to care? Good question. It’s complex. There are layers of data, modeling, and unanswered questions, and I don’t think I can quite get my arms around all of it yet. There are economic, geographic, social, and cultural factors, and there are no agreed upon ways to measure them. Some experts argue from one perspective about shortages, population growth, and shifting health care needs, while others say “traditional” models are the problem, and we just need more creativity and technology to address it.
What we do know, is what adequate access to care is not. It does not mean being established with a primary care provider who has a 3-month waiting list. It does not mean having to head to the emergency room because a regular doctor is not available, like over half a million Coloradans did in 2011. It does not mean having a health insurance card in your wallet, because having coverage does not necessarily guarantee access to care.
Access is a big health care challenge that we have not fully addressed in Colorado. Yet, it almost feels like we’re waiting for it to happen, instead of actively working to manage it together. We may be waiting for the experts to tell us what exactly adequate access to care means and how we can achieve it. We may be waiting for 2014 where the new offerings of private and public coverage will insure more people than ever before. We may be waiting for new payment systems to be established so providers can deliver care based on outcomes rather than volume. Or, we may be waiting for another directive from key decision-makers—whether from Washington D.C., our legislators here in Colorado, or our state agencies. At some point though, all this waiting may cause bigger problems.
Right now, we should seize the time that we have, think through the issues, and actively work toward solutions that can ensure adequate access to health care for all Coloradans. Answers to key questions and clear guidance would be useful, but we if we wait for the perfect opportunity, we may not have time to implement our plans. Colorado has consistently proven to be creative and flexible when it comes to health care solutions, as we continue to lead the country in working toward new systems of coverage. We should challenge ourselves to do the same in ensuring that all Coloradans have adequate access to health care.