Health insurance bill helps Vail Valley, but headed to an unfriendly Senate | VailDaily.com

Health insurance bill helps Vail Valley, but headed to an unfriendly Senate

House Bill 17-1235

Rep. Diane Mitch Bush’s bill would work like this:

• Your family income cannot be higher than 500% of the federal poverty level. That’s $121,500 for a family of four.

• You must be spending more than 15% on health insurance.

• You must live in one of three high cost areas. (See map)

• You must buy insurance through the exchange. That’s about 7 percent Coloradoans statewide, and 14 percent in the mountain counties.

• The bill would create temporary financial assistance for individuals and families who live in one of the three regions of the state with the highest premiums. Colorado’s Central Mountains are one of those three regions.

• A separate bill would set aside $5.7 million to pay for it.

DENVER — A bill designed to help high country residents pay for health insurance was assigned to a state Senate committee likely to kill it, says the bill's House sponsor.

But Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush says that just makes planning her weekend a little easier. She says she'll do everything she can to convince members of the Senate, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee to push H.B. 17-1235 onto the Senate floor.

"If we can get it by the (Senate) committee, it will pass on the floor," Mitch Bush said.

The bill aims to help families spend no more than 15 percent of their annual income on health insurance. It would be a temporary fix, expiring in December of 2018, after the next round of mid-term and state elections.

“If we can get it by the (Senate) committee, it will pass on the floor.”Rep. Diane Mitch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs

Mitch Bush, a Steamboat Springs Democrat who represents Routt and Eagle counties in the legislature, pushed the bill out of the Democrat-controlled Colorado House of Representatives earlier this week, by a 42-22 vote. It's scheduled for a committee hearing on Monday, Mitsch Bush said.

Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, is a co-sponsor in the Senate. She represents Colorado's Senate District 5, which includes Pitkin and Eagle counties.

What it does

The bill creates a subsidy to help offset to skyrocketing health insurance costs on Colorado's Western Slope and Eastern Plains.

To be eligible, your income must not exceed 500 percent of the federal poverty level — $121,500 for a family of four and $48,360.60 for an individual. You must be spending more than 15 percent of your household income on individual health insurance premiums.

"They earn too much to qualify for federal stipends and too little to afford these premiums. This situation is an emergency for them," Mitch Bush said.

A separate bill would set aside $5.7 million to pay for it.

"We will continue to work on a longer term solution, but in the meantime, this relief is critical for people in my district who are having to choose between rent and health care," Mitsch Bush said. "The bill doesn't solve the problem. It offers stop-gap help through 2018."

Based on the state's own data

Mitsch Bush said the subsidy program is based on the state's own data.

Of the five U.S. counties that pay the most for health insurance, four are in Colorado, and all four are mountain counties, Mitsch Bush said.

"We've always had higher premiums. What changed with the Affordable Care Act was that we could look on the exchange and see how much more we were paying," Mitsch Bush said. "Yes, we need long-term solutions, but this is an emergency for our constituents. We need some kind of subsidy."

In 201,6 Republican Rep. Bob Rankin, along with Democrats Millie Hamner and Mitsch Bush, ran a bill that ordered Colorado's Division of Insurance to calculate what would happen if Colorado became a single area across the state, instead of being split into the nine area it is now.

That data rolled out last July. Mitsch Bush said the data showed that:

• Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs would see a 5 percent increase.

• The Eastern Plains would see an 18 percent decrease.

• Health insurance costs on the Western Slope would drop 22.3 percent,

The plan was not implemented, amid worries that insurance companies would go bankrupt, Mitsch Bush said.

"I'm worried my constituents will go bankrupt." Mitsch Bush said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.