AURORA, Colo. – Colorado Access, a 501(c)4 nonprofit health plan serving the Medicaid and Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+) populations, hosted U.S. Representative Diana DeGette for an invite-only, virtual townhall focusing on the state of primary care during the COVID-19 pandemic. The townhall focused on telehealth, the public health system, and access to primary care services for communities of color. During the event, Representative DeGette and area health care leaders discussed health care funding and COVID-19 federal legislation, as well as how telehealth services have increased; all resources affecting the care Coloradans receive, specifically vulnerable populations served by Medicaid.
With many people opting out of routine medical services during the COVID-19 pandemic, primary care facilities have had to be creative to maintain business operations and ensure the health of patients. STRIDE Community Health Center has resorted to daily employee health screenings, patient health screenings at the door, and an increase in telehealth services. The community health center has also been able to test more than 10,000 people for COVID-19 as of the end of May.
“The challenges brought by COVID were a tremendous test of our resolve to keep services available to our communities and keep all of our team members employed,” said Ben Wiederholt, president and CEO at STRIDE Community Health Center. “Early on we identified the principles of safety, sustainability, togetherness, and adaptability as essential to guide our journey through COVID. I am incredibly proud to be among such mission driven employees dedicated to the common good of our internal and external community.”
Telehealth services have seen an increase with all providers, and that is expected to stay, even after this pandemic is over.
“While telehealth has been around for several years, the COVID pandemic created a tipping point. These services may not be as heavily utilized in the future as they are today, but we will not go back to our “pre-COVID” use patterns,” said Dr. Bill Wright, program medical director at Colorado Access. “The challenge will be to work out reimbursement issues and the regs governing appropriate use going forward.”
Even as states begin to reopen, many primary care providers are still seeing a decline in the number of patients seeking care for routine services. Combined with many safety-net providers, such as clinics and community health centers, being excluded from federal funding initiatives has created a systemic burden as those providers serve generally higher risk, minority communities and underserved populations, who are disproportionately affected and at greater risk for COVID-19.
“Though I can’t speak for all primary care practices, there seems to be a similar experience among those that serve vulnerable, low income populations of a loss of 50-70% of patients during the stay at home order,” said Bebe Kleinman, chief executive officer at Doctors Care. “We are recovering slowly but recent surveys indicate more than 60% of community safety net clinics do not expect to be financially sound until well into 2021. We anticipate this to be the new normal even with telehealth up and running effectively.”
Representative DeGette reiterated that the COVID-19 pandemic can’t be fixed without addressing the current public health system. This includes streamlined testing, a coordinated contact tracing system, and ultimately a vaccine. Having served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1997, Representative DeGette is a longtime champion of health care policy, ranging from health care for all to the 2014 Cures Act to the more recent legislation calling for widespread testing for COVID-19.
About Colorado Access:
Founded in 1994, Colorado Access is a local, nonprofit health plan that serves members throughout Colorado. The company’s members receive health care as part of Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+) and Health First Colorado (Colorado’s Medicaid Program) behavioral and physical health, and long-term services and supports programs. The company also provides care coordination services and administers behavioral health and physical health benefits for two regions as part of the Accountable Care Collaborative Program through Health First Colorado. To learn more about Colorado Access, visit coaccess.com.