Sunday, June 14, 2009

Help for Rural Colorado

The Colorado Rural Health Care Grant Council awarded $1.2 million in their second round of grant funding to strengthen healthcare delivery in rural communities. “As we continue toward our goal of providing access to high quality affordable healthcare to all Coloradans, it is critical that we support our rural communities”, said Governor Ritter.

For example, there is a serious problem in the state since the prevalence of diabetes is somewhat higher in rural than in urban areas in the state. People in the rural areas of the state tend to be diagnosed later and as a result, receive substandard healthcare as compared to their urban counterparts.

To address rural health issues, the Colorado Rural Health Care Grant program established in 2007, was funded with a $7.5 million gift to be distributed over six years from UnitedHealthcare. The 27 grants in the second round of grants awarded in rural communities ranged from $30,000 to $50,000. The funding went to physical, mental, and oral healthcare providers in 19 counties.

Grantees include Federally Qualified Health Centers, public health departments, public and private health clinics, and school-based health centers. The grants provide funding for health information technology, construction and remodeling, equipment and supplies, and staff training.

The Colorado Rural Health Care Grant Council meets at least annually to monitor the impact and effectiveness of the grant program, and regularly examines eligibility requirements. The Council is co-chaired by Colorado’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ned Calonge, and UnitedHealthcare’s Vice President for Health Care Strategies, Dr. Jacqueline Stiff. The Council includes healthcare consumers, rural healthcare providers, and representatives from the Governor’s Office, Division of Insurance at the Department of Regulatory Agencies, Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, and the Department of Local Affairs.

The Colorado Rural Health Center (CRHC), the state’s non-profit Office of Rural Health administers the grant program. Recently, in February 2009, CRHC was able to open its first regional office to serve southeastern Colorado.

CRHC was able to open the office with a grant from the Colorado Health Foundation and as a result, implemented an “Improving Performance in Practice” initiative in rural health clinics in Southeastern Colorado. The goal for the initiative is to integrate quality improvement and data collection methods into practices, increase efficiency, manage patients through population-based strategies, and expand and sustain improvements to care.

A piece of state legislation the “Colorado Healthcare Affordability Act” (HB09-1293) was recently passed by both the House and the Senate to help to insure over 100,000 people in Colorado and to provide the hospitals with enhanced Medicaid, CHP+ and CICP reimbursement rates.

The bill however creates a “Hospital Provider Fee Oversight and Advisory Board” to oversee the implementation of a fee required in the legislation. However, to help rural areas, the legislation may allow Critical Access Hospitals and rural hospitals to be exempt from paying the provider fee or perhaps pay the fee at a reduced amount.