Gilpin Community Center hosts Dr. Camarata supporters
By Aaron Storms
Playing to a full house on Sunday afternoon, State Representative KC Becker addressed multiple issues affecting Gilpin County and Boulder County residents ranging from Black Hawk and Central City to as far north as Ward. Some of the attendees were there solely to support Dr. Michael Camarata in his fight to regain the ability to treat Medicaid patients.
One of the first issues discussed was problems with the TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) that had been designed to protect taxpayers initially, but is now preventing the State from using extra taxes collected to support our infrastructure and rural health care needs. Similar problems exist with the Gallagher Amendment where the State is now required to give $260 million in tax refunds to oil and gas companies instead of utilizing those funds in areas sorely needed. The State is having to cut hospital preferred fees by $265 million, and are losing Federal matching funds because of this.
The Department of Corrections is the one positive change with costs going down, primarily due to the legalization of marijuana. The State has now cut higher education funding to less than 5% for the University of Colorado, and is similar for other State colleges, driving the cost up to be similar to private colleges.
The State is faced with serious budget challenges including health care. One idea is to move $800 million from TABOR and reclassify hospital provider fees, which had bipartisan support for rural hospitals and clinics that are in real danger of closing.
Addressing the issue of Dr. Camarata recently losing his ability to treat Medicaid patients, Becker stated that she has contacted all the State health agencies to try and find coverage for the 1,500 Medicaid patients who currently have Dr. Camarata as their primary care physician. One of the agencies she contacted was the Colorado Community Health Alliance (CCHA) who is the contractor for Health First Colorado (Colorado’s Medicaid Program). They stated that they cover Medicaid enrollees in the mountain communities of Boulder, Gilpin, and Clear Creek, but since there are no hospitals or clinics up here, patients would have to commute down to Boulder in most cases. Dr. Camarata stated that he had a patient who has contacted them for an appointment, and was given a two-month waiting period for a non-emergency visit. The CCHA Executive Director of State Programs, Elizabeth Baskett, said that patients needing care can call 303-256-1717 or can contact them online at www.CCHAcares.com.
Regarding Dr. Camarata’s specific case, Becker said that she cannot help directly or interfere as this is part of the judicial process and he is already appealing the decision with the Attorney General’s office. Back in May of 2013, Dr. Camarata’s license was restricted by DORA after review due to medical violations including too many medical marijuana certifications, and prescribing narcotics to patients in amounts that exceeded generally accepted medical standards. He was not restricted from seeing Medicaid patients, and just has 15 months left on the probation before the restriction would be lifted. But was just informed at the end of February that a Medicaid insurance board had just reviewed his license and noted that it had a restriction, so it was their decision to stop him from serving his 1,500 Medicaid patients. Since that’s half of his business, there was a real possibility that he might have to close his office, but with the support of his other patients and having to lay off some staff, he’s planning on keeping the doors open. Becker said that she would work for a speedy resolution for what she could help with. This was followed by about 20 people giving testimony for their desire to continue to see Dr. Camarata instead of having to try and find a new provider down in Boulder or the Denver metro area.
Gilpin Commissioners Linda Isenhart and Gail Watson both stated that the County would do what it could to help provide transportation, as they had made plans to increase assistance after the clinic in Black Hawk closed. It was suggested that testimonies and petitions of support be sent to Dr. Camarata’s attorney, Mark Cohen.
Additional issues addressed were wildfires and taking preventive measures to mitigate, as well as issues with transient camping and vigilante retaliation. Becker noted that the State is designating $7 million for wildfire mitigation this year, and is also looking at affordable housing options. A resident brought up a related issue where residential insurance companies were making it difficult to obtain insurance if living in a forested mountain community, or were flat denying insurance coverage at all. KC stated that some counties are now doing their own fire risk inspections and are working with insurance companies to insure residents. She knows that the State is underfunding the wildfire risk, but there is no more money available.
Sheriff Bruce Hartman also brought up the issue of the State running out of jail space for repeat DUI felons who have pending court hearings, and those felons are being sent to all the rural jails across the state, which is causing overcrowding and requiring new jails to be built at the taxpayer’s expense.
Another resident brought up the pending legislation regarding autonomous cars that are self-driving with no actual person on board, and was concerned for pedestrian, bicycle, and motorcycle rider safety. Becker stated that the State will set the standards, and will not be up to local entities so that there is one set of rules only.
The 24-hour drinking bill was also brought up due to pending legislation, and KC said that she voted against it for the primary reason that drinkers would leave one bar at 2 a.m. and drive to a second bar that might be open until 5 a.m., but it passed anyway.
There was a lot more covered in this very informative meeting than we have space for in this article, so if you have additional questions, KC says that she answers all her email and will respond as she can at firstname.lastname@example.org. For those wishing to support Dr. Camarata further with Medicaid reinstatement efforts, there was a sign-up sheet at the front desk, but you can also contact the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing at their website www.colorado.gov/hcpf, or you can write them at 1570 Grant St, Denver, CO 80203. CCHA stated that though they want to assist the doctor and his patients, currently the denial means that he is not able to be a Medicaid provider at this time, and Federal regulations restrict them from revalidating a provider with a restricted license.
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