Hoyer, DeGette visit Denver Health to highlight reform

By Anthony Bowe
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

The mood was celebratory as Congresswoman Diana DeGette, D-CD 1, allowed doctors to show off one of her favorite health institutions to a colleague she calls her boss.

DeGette and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, toured the emergency center at Denver Health Medical Center Tuesday after trumpeting the benefits of the Affordable Care Act signed by President Obama in March.

Dr. Christopher Colwell, director of the emergency department of Denver Health, talks with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, who toured the medical facility Tuesday.
Photo courtesy Denver Health
Robert Hill, chairman of the Nurse-Family Partnership board of directors, Congresswoman Diana DeGette and Dr. Patricia Gabow, CEO and medical director of Denver Health.
Photo courtesy Denver Health

Surrounded by hospital staff, DeGette thanked Denver’s safety-net hospital and community center for inspiring her and congressional Democrats who pushed through the health care reform legislation.

“Denver Health is also going to get a lot of help from this bill to get more resources to the community health centers, which is the best place not only to treat most illnesses but to prevent illnesses for people who are uninsured,” said DeGette, who was elected to congress in 1996.

DeGette said operating costs for hospitals and emergency rooms will plummet nationwide as more people purchase insurance and receive primary care.

“That cost impacts everybody in our society whether or not they have health insurance because all of us have to pay when our public safety net hospitals have to treat uninsured patients,” she said. “Thanks to the health care reform bill that we passed earlier this year, that will become a distant memory. One day in the not too distant future the ER team here will be able to focus on what they do best which is providing emergency care to patients.”

Dr. Patricia Gabow, CEO and medical director of Denver Health, said the hospital is projected to spend $350 million on uninsured patients this year. The new legislation, she said, provides Denver Health an opportunity to continue to expand its services.

“For us it means fewer uninsured, many of who will now become Medicaid eligible or will get new subsidies so they can purchase health insurance,” Gabow said. “It means more community health center sites to create access. It means needed expansion of the primary care workforce to staff those clinics.”

DeGette’s Republican opponent in November’s election, Mike Fallon, said the picture she paints is not so rosy. Fallon, an emergency room doctor who performed his residency at Denver Health, said the health care legislation does nothing to improve the quality of care.

“This new health reform bill helps quasi-government based hospitals, emergency rooms and community health centers — these benefits are the positive outcomes of this legislation,” Fallon said. “But, these centers of care are just a fraction of our entire health system. The news that two clinics at the University of Colorado Hospital will no longer take government insurance plans highlights a larger problem with this legislation. More and more private medical providers will no longer take government insurance plans, thus, reducing the access this bill portends to provide.” 

Fallon said he favors health care reform that would give tax incentives to individuals who purchase health care, allow insurance companies to compete across state lines, foster non profit health insurance and health delivery systems, enable free market competition for government grants, enact responsible medical liability reform and encourage consumer-based health care options.

Dr. Paul Melinkovich, director of Denver Health Community Health Services, said the legislation provides access to additional funding to expand the capacity of Denver Health’s community care centers, which deliver primary care services.

“Expanding the community health center network is a logical way to expand access to care for a population that hasn’t had services to date,” said Melinkovich, who also stated hope that other community care centers like Denver Health would spring up in low-income communities across the state as a result of the legislation.

Denver Health includes eight community health centers and 12 school-based health clinics serving 25 percent of Denver County residents.

Hoyer credited DeGette’s work as critical to the passage of the health care legislation. He called it a job creator and touted the Congressional Budgetary Committee report that said the health reforms woud save millions. He said Americans have already started to see the benefits this month, as dependents as old as 26 are allowed to remain on their parent’s health insurance.

“I can’t tell you how many parents have come up to me and how many students have come up to me to say, ‘Thank you congressman. Thank you for making sure that my 23 year old or 24 year old is still covered, still has insurance. I don’t have to worry about the fact that they’re going to get insured, or their going to get sick and have a catastrophic illness,’” Hoyer said.
When describing the merits of maintaining cheap prescriptions for seniors, Hoyer generated laughter when he said Lipitor, which maintains cholesterol, helps to continue his junk food eating habits.

“I just had my physical and my cholesterol was good — it was 155 — and I eat McDonalds hamburgers all the time and my people who are with me most the time, I catch them saying, ‘Hoyer must have a 500 cholesterol count.’ An extraordinary drug,” Hoyer said as laughter erupted.

Hoyer said providing more access to prescription drugs also lowers health care costs because the population is healthier.

DeGette and Hoyer were led through the emergency wings by Gabow and Dr. Christopher Colwell, director of the emergency department. They visited a resuscitation room in the Adult Trauma Center and another room in the Pediatric Emergency Center.

Hoyer commented on the efficiency of Denver Health’s operation, despite treating thousands of the uninsured.

Gabow said advancements in information technologies and the use of the Toyota efficiency system make Denver Health a well-oiled machine.

Colwell thanked DeGette and Hoyer for the health care legislation, which he said will improve Denver Health.

“It’s always nice to hear the wonderful comments and when you have them from somebody in the level of congresswoman, it makes you sit back and say all that hard work and working in the middle of the night with the yelling and screaming and the blood and guts it’s all worth it. To hear that kind of praise is really satisfying,” Colwell said.

Immediately following the tour DeGette was given a leadership award by the Nurse-Family Partnership for her contribution to enacting the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visitation Program. The program, included in the Affordable Care Act, secures $1.5 billion in federal dollars for programs similar to the Nurse-Family Partnership.

“Representative DeGette has been a tireless fighter for children and families, and that includes her support of evidence-based health, educational and social programs that better lives,” said Robert Hill, chairman of the Nurse-Family Partnership board of directors.

The Nurse-Family Partnership partners first-time mothers with a registered nurse early in the pregnancy. The program encourages positive health and development behaviors between mother and baby, while the same nurse continues regular home visits through the child’s second birthday.

Hill presented DeGette with an engraved crystal vase.

DeGette said she prioritized the home visitation provision for the health care bill because the programs have already shown consistent success.

“I feel strongly, we shouldn’t spend anything in health care if we don’t have a good sound scientific reason for doing it,” DeGette said.

Anthony@coloradostatesman.com