EAGLE COUNTY — Colorado’s High Country has the nation’s highest Obamacare costs, but regional residents could get some relief if changes in a statewide insurance rating map become final.
Colorado’s Central Rockies resort region — Eagle, Summit, Garfield and Pitkin counties — pays the nation’s highest health insurance rates under the maps created for Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act). The Garfield County commissioners were so furious that they threatened to sue the state.
Late last week, Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar offered to redraw those maps, lumping the four counties with most of the rest of Western Colorado. The bigger, 22-county pool should reduce the four-county region’s healthcare costs, but it will raise costs in other areas, Salazar said.
Redrawing the maps will still leave resort county residents with some of the country’s highest Obamacare premiums.
Salazar said the new lineup of insurance regions could bring cost down between 4 to 8 percent in resort areas. That’s about $20 a month. Other rural areas in Colorado would see their costs go up 4 to 6 percent, also about $20 a month to about $366 a month.
The current premium for a 40-year-old non-smoker in the resort counties is $483 a month.
Residents have until Wednesday to comment on the new map. Salazar is expected to approve it by Friday.
‘FAR FROM AFFORDABLE’
“As residents in the resort region have learned to our dismay, health care premiums in the new Colorado Health Exchange can be far from affordable,” said Kathy Chandler-Henry, Eagle County commissioner. “What this means for residents in Eagle County (and Pitkin, Summit and Garfield), is that we have a bigger pool of people and a larger number of providers. Average costs will go down, which means insurance premiums will go down too.”
Health insurance premiums in the four-county resort region are about double what they are in Fort Collins, the state’s lowest-cost region, Chandler-Henry said.
“It’s been frustrating and stressful. This is a big relief,” said Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky.
Jankovsky said he is concerned that rates in other rural counties will increase to subsidize health costs in counties such as Eagle and Pitkin, both home to large ski areas.
Salazar said it’s about “fairness,” the opposite of what she argued last year — it’s unfair for some of the state’s poorest counties to subsidize rich counties by putting them in the same risk pool.
Next year’s health insurance rates are still speculation. Insurers submit their 2015 proposed premiums on June 6.
How this happened
When the Division of Insurance drew the maps in 2013, they considered cost of care and utilization of care when they created 11 different regions — seven in metropolitan areas and another four that group rural counties, Chandler-Henry said.
“When the cost of care in our four counties is compared with the rest of the state, it’s high,” Chandler-Henry said.
The new plan would group all the western Colorado counties together — except for Mesa County and Grand Junction. It would also group together all the counties on the Eastern Plains and the rural parts of southern Colorado.
Insurance companies set the rates and factor in things such as geography, tobacco use and age, Chandler-Henry said. A rate can go up 15 percent if you’re a tobacco user and 300 percent based on age.
“In a nutshell, that’s what brought us to those astronomical premium rates in 2014 and to the crisis in our mountain resort communities,” Chandler-Henry said. “Those hardest hit are people 40 and older earning between 400 percent and 600 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s our workforce — our middle class earners who are faced with insurance premiums gobbling up a large percentage of their income.”
The marketplace could also drive down costs for the resort region. Kaiser Permanente Colorado announced Friday plans to expand into western Colorado along the Interstate 70 corridor by 2016.
“Market competition is good news for consumers,” Chandler-Henry said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.