A recent press report concluded the number of doctors and hospital beds in Colorado, relative to our state’s population, was much lower than the national average. This contradicts claims that hospitals and healthcare facilities have been overbuilt in our state.
CLAIM #1: According to an analysis by Quote Wizard, an insurance information website, Colorado has 2.52 physicians per 1,000 people and 1.92 hospital beds per 1,000 people – and both these measures are significantly below the national average.
This is true, with an important caveat: The data on hospital beds does not include temporary increases in capacity to cope with the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the analysis by Quote Wizard – and reported by Colorado Politics – does highlight some extremely important information about Colorado’s healthcare system under normal, pre-pandemic conditions.
Let’s begin with the number of physicians in Colorado. Almost 1.1 million Coloradans live in a Health Professional Shortage Area, or HPSA, according to federal data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Roughly speaking, that means one in five Coloradans live in an area where there are not enough family doctors and other primary healthcare providers to meet the demands of the community.
Overall, Colorado would need to recruit more than 250 primary care physicians to correct this shortage. That means we rank somewhere between New Mexico and Louisiana in terms of the number of additional doctors we need:
Next, let’s tackle hospital beds. To some, Quote Wizard’s findings – which are based on 2018 data – may be surprising. For years, some major players in the healthcare policy debate have argued Colorado hospitals are overbuilding and have too much capacity.
For example: Kim Bimestefer, a top healthcare advisor to Governor Jared Polis and the executive director of the Department of Healthcare Policy and Financing, has long criticized hospital systems for an alleged “arms race” in “brick-and-mortar construction.” More recently, Bimestefer even argued Colorado has “way too much access” to cancer, orthopedic, and cardiac treatments.
But despite such claims, the data tells a different story. Construction has certainly taken place, but the construction is a response to a growing population in Colorado. Federal data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows the number of Colorado hospital beds has not increased on a per capita basis. In fact, when measured against our state’s rising population, hospital capacity in Colorado remains below the national average and is trending downward – from 2 hospital beds per 1,000 people in 2010 to 1.9 hospital beds per 1,000 people in 2018.
Far from an oversupply of healthcare services in Colorado, physicians and hospitals have been working hard just to keep up with the needs of our growing state. That was true before COVID-19, and while emergency capacity has been added to the healthcare system to respond to the pandemic, it is likely our state will continue to need more physicians and more hospitals beds after our battle with the virus is over.
Hopefully, this means officials and interest groups who have made inaccurate claims about the capacity of our state’s healthcare sector will cease making those claims. Taking healthcare infrastructure for granted – in the middle of a pandemic or under normal conditions – is just plain wrong.