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A bipartisan bill to lower Western Slope health insurance rates sponsored by state Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, made it out of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services late last week. HB 1336 (pdf) already passed in the House.
The bill would direct the Colorado Division of Insurance to study the feasibility of changing the current system of creating risk pools based on geographic regions under the Affordable Care Act. The so-called “Study Single Geographic Area Individual Health Plans” bill passed 4-1, with amendments, and will now be considered by the entire Senate.
The Colorado Division of Insurance would be required to complete its report by Aug. 1, meaning changes could then be implemented by 2017 and rates might come down for Western Slope residents, where costs have been spiraling out of control in recent years. However, rates could increase slightly for residents of other areas of the state, such as the more populous Front Range.
“The root cause of [runaway Western Slope rates] is of course the high cost of healthcare, and the question is why is it so high, but coping with that has obviously led to the higher insurance rates because, unlike other insurance, which is averaged over the entire state, health insurance goes by zones,” said Avon mortgage broker Chris Neuswanger, who led a petition drive for the bill.
More than 1,400 signatures were turned in during last week’s committee hearing, and Neuswanger is gathering more and tracking the bill on his website “Equalrates.com”.
“Three years ago my premium was about $300 a month with a $2,500 deductible, and now it’s $744 a month with a $6,500 deductible, as well as other benefits have been steadily eroding over the years,” Neuswanger said. “I now have a separate copay for prescription drug I never had before.”
A legislative attempt to daylight reasons for the high cost of certain expensive prescription drugs was killed in a House committee earlier this session. That bill had the support of the Eagle County commissioners, who also have been active in trying to bring down health insurance costs.
Commissioner Jill Ryan joined commissioners from Lake, Summit, Pitkin, Garfield, Routt and Gunnison counties in advocating for the health-insurance bill in order to spread the costs equally around the state.
Individual plans on the Western Slope now costs as much as some mortgage payments, and Neuswanger said he has clients choosing to pay the ACA penalty and go uninsured.
The bill is also sponsored by Durango Republican Ellen Roberts, who used to be a ski-resort worker and a park ranger. She said she’s concerned the Western Slope mountain region of Colorado is becoming a place only the wealthy can afford.