By Associated Press - Sunday, May 24, 2015

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) - About 4,500 county residents in the Aspen area live at or below the federal poverty level, and Pitkin County health officials are trying to find options to help the area’s low-income families receive the care they need because many doctors are not accepting public health insurance.

Liz Stark, Pitkin County public health director, said many low-income and Medicare-eligible residents have to drive 70 miles to Rifle to get treatment.

“We have a growing public health crisis regarding limited access to affordable care for low-income adults,” Stark said. “This has to do with dental, behavioral health, physical health, all our types of health care.”

Stark blamed financial impacts from the Great Recession, changes in the health care system from the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion in Colorado.

Commissioner George Newman seemed surprised by the numbers, noting that with how affluent Pitkin County is, many people are still below the poverty level, the Aspen Daily News reported (

“That is a huge number,” he said.

The West Mountain Regional Health Alliance was formed in 2010 to help provide needed health care to low-income citizens.

Since that time the group has expanded its membership extensively, and continues to work on this access to care issue, Stark said.

Stark said a number of local physicians won’t accept government insurance because of a very low reimbursement rate and a high number of patients who don’t show up for appointments.

Ross Brooks, CEO of Mountain Family Health Centers, said there’s been a huge increase in patients in the last couple of years, with its four offices serving more than 15,000 people in 2014, with 55,000 health visits.

Brooks said 37 percent of Mountain family’s patients are uninsured; 38 percent on Medicaid; and 18 percent have private insurance.

He said that the majority of patients without health care are undocumented immigrants.

Brooks said Mountain Family won’t deny care to anyone, but said it’s taking longer to get an appointment due to the large number of patients seeking their services.


Information from: Aspen Daily News,

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