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Health insurance rates set to go through the roof in rural Colorado in 2018

Western Slope resort counties likely to be some of the hardest hit by rate spikes

By
July 15, 2017, 8:33 am
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The Vail Valley Medical Center in Vail is rapidly expanding but health insurance costs keep climbing.

Rural Colorado, including most of the beleaguered Western Slope, will continue to be hammered by astronomical increases in health insurance in the individual and small-group markets in 2018, according to preliminary rate-increase requests released Friday by the Colorado Division of Insurance.

Anthem, the only insurer offering plans in 14 rural Colorado counties, is seeking a 30 percent increase in rates for 2018. Cigna is requesting a staggering 41.2-percent price hike, “compounding the problem for Western Slope consumers who have been struggling with sky-high premiums and significant yearly increases, “according to the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative (CCHI).

“With the ongoing chaos created by Congress and the [Trump] administration, Colorado consumers are facing painful increases in their 2018 coverage and premium prices,” CCHI director of strategic engagement Adam Fox said. “The insurance market was stabilizing prior to the turmoil created by Republican leaders in Washington. Insurance companies like predictability and they haven’t gotten that.”

Fox, whose group represents more than 45 Colorado health organizations with more than 500,000 health-care consumer members, noted that proposed rate increases are often higher than the final rates, so the insurance division can still deem many of the rate spikes unjustified.

Kaiser, which writes the majority of individual market policies through the state’s Connect for Health Colorado marketplace, has requested a 24.4 percent increase, followed by Colorado Choice at 28.9 percent, Bright Health at 15 percent, Denver Health at 12.7 percent and Rocky Mountain HMO at 12.1 percent.

The average increase request for individual plans is 27 percent and 7 percent in the small group market. The Colorado Division of Insurance will continue to analyze the rate-increase requests and final increases should be locked in by the fall.

“While we had hoped for a lower rate of increase, it’s important to remember that Advance Premium Tax Credit assistance will rise with the premiums, and many of our customers have seen their net premiums decline as rates increased in recent years,” writes Connect for Health Colorado CEO Kevin Patterson.

“We also know from our own survey that many Coloradans who are eligible for assistance assume that they are not,” Patterson added, referring to the state exchange website set up under the Affordable Care Act. “We urge anyone buying their own health insurance to use the tools on our site to obtain an estimate of the financial assistance that may be available to them.”

Only about 6 percent of Coloradans buy individual plans, with more than half covered by their employers.

The U.S. Senate is currently struggling to agree on a second version of its unpopular Better Care Reconciliation Act, which would to some degree repeal and replace the ACA. The House in May passed the American Health Care Act, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated would result in 23 million Americans losing health insurance over the next decade. The Senate version would result in about 22 million losing coverage.

With the Senate bill polling at about 15-percent popularity and even some supporters of President Donald Trump starting to turn on the bill, a few Republicans lawmakers appear ready to work with Democrats on fixing the problems with the ACA.

“The signs that the market was stabilizing should encourage Congress to improve the Affordable Care Act, not repeal it,” CCHI’s Fox said. “If the Senate bill passes, Coloradans will see tax credits decrease, seniors charged more, and more rate increases.

“We believe insurers should be working with providers to improve quality and keep coverage affordable by addressing the underlying health care costs instead of responding to the chaos created by Congress and this administration.”

There has been virtually no Congressional action on bringing down the runaway costs of prescription drugs – a fact likely to be seized upon by politicians in rural areas where doctor shortages, limited competition and overall costs have been out of control for years. That’s especially true on the state’s Western Slope, including rural resort areas like Eagle County.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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