Senior-Friendly Surgery

In this July 16, 2019, file photo provided by the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, George Barrett, 85, of Lakewood is checked by nurse Renee Whitley as he recuperates from open-heart surgery at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in Aurora.

Coloradans say the rising cost of health care is a top concern, with one in four saying they're currently struggling to pay off medical bills, according to a new poll released Tuesday.

The survey of 603 registers voters found that 73% say the amount they pay for health care goes up year after year, while the same percentage of respondents worry about being able to afford high deductibles. Another 60% say they're concerned about covering the cost of monthly premiums.

Pollster Chris Keating of Colorado-based Keating Research said the survey found that most Coloradans like their health insurance plan but are unhappy about the costs.

"There's no doubt about it, health care is expensive and Coloradans are feeling the strain," Keating said in a statement. "These poll results should be a wake-up call to our policymakers to reduce the out-of-pocket costs of care. Health care is a human right, and Coloradans need to be able to pay for their medical expenses without having to worry about astronomical or unexpected bills."

The poll was conducted online July 16-21 by national firm ALG Research and Keating Research for Consumers for Quality Care, a group that advocates on behalf of patients. Results were weighted to reflect the state's registered electorate. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4%.

The poll also found that 61% of respondents they've had to struggle to pay health care bills at some point, even when they had insurance. Nearly half of Hispanic respondents and those who say they're already struggling financially say they're facing difficulty paying off existing bills.

Worries over high health care costs run the gamut, the poll found, with 76% concerned about getting a surprise bill and 73% concerned about inability to pay a high deductible.

“This research confirms what many Coloradans have been feeling: the out-of-pocket costs for quality health care are too high,” said Donna Christensen, the first female physician elected to serve in the House of Representatives and a board member of group that sponsored the poll.

“With about 18% of Americans with medical debt in collections, it is no wonder why consumers are stressed about the cost of going to the hospital or seeing a doctor. Out-of-pocket costs shouldn’t be so high and unpredictable that they discourage people from seeking care, and insurance should act like insurance and be there for patients when they need it.”

Just over half of Colorado voters — 54% — want their elected officials to do something about high health care costs, but the poll found they're seeking careful fixes rather than a sweeping overhaul, with the same 54% saying they want Congress to target aspects of the current system and 35% saying they want the system fundamentally transformed.

More voters cite addressing health care costs as their top priority over anything else, with 54% saying they want officials to tackle rising expenses, compared to 15% who want improved access, 15% who want a simpler system and 14% who want better quality of care.

Recent state and federal measures meant to address health care quality and costs get good marks from state voters, with 62% saying they support major state legislation passed this year, with 80% of Democrats supporting it and 55% of Republicans saying they approve.

By a wide margin, 42% said that a proposal from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet that allows the FDA to accelerate approval of breakthrough therapies makes them more likely to vote for the Colorado Democrat next year, while just 8% say it makes them less likely.

Respondents were in broad agreement about a few top policy priorities, with 90% agreeing that insurance premiums should be low enough that they don't get in the way of getting quality care and 86% agreeing that insurance companies shouldn't be allowed to sell plans that cover so little that customers can't afford to get care.

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