Time is now to enroll in health insurance via Connect for Health Colorado | VailDaily.com

Time is now to enroll in health insurance via Connect for Health Colorado

Kirsten Dobroth
Special to the Daily

Each year, the weather gets cooler, the snow begins to fall and the state exchange opens for consumers to purchase health insurance for the upcoming year. While it might not be the most exciting thing to put on a holiday wish list, there's a lot to keep in mind for choosing a plan that makes sense and is affordable for the next year.

Choosing the right plan

The open enrollment period for health insurance began on Nov. 1 and runs until Jan. 31, with the time to buy only opening up again for special circumstances throughout the year, such as getting married, having a baby, losing a job. It can be a confusing time, too — with all of the changes to the health insurance market brought on by the Affordable Care Act throughout the past few years, consumers might not fully understand all the provisions now at their fingertips under the law.

Connect for Health isn't a state plan — that idea was shot down when Amendment 69 was defeated in the November election. Instead, Connect for Health Colorado is Colorado's marketplace, a medium through which to compare private health insurance plans and their associated prices and apply for tax credits to help pay for monthly costs.

Tax credits are meant to help consumers who might need assistance paying for insurance, and plenty of Colorado residents are eligible for monthly credits. For instance, in Eagle County, the median household income for Eagle County residents in 2015 was $76,661, according to the Colorado Health Institute, but tax credits are available via the Colorado exchange for households of four making between $31,000 and $94,000 annually, according to Connect for Health.

Tax credits are also available on plans for individuals earning between $15,000 and $45,500, according to exchange, and households of two earning $20,500 and $62,000 can also take advantage of tax credits. Individuals and families earning less than the amounts mentioned in that window are eligible for Medicaid or Child Health Plan Plus.

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For younger would-be buyers, catastrophic coverage was a popular option during the days before the Affordable Care Act, but with the introduction of the sweeping health care legislation, applicants for catastrophic coverage plans aren't eligible for tax breaks. The idea is to push more people towards enrolling in plans and seeing doctors, and the incentive to see providers is built into the legislation.

Think of it as a gym membership — you're already paying for a monthly rate for coverage that includes access to different types of services from women's health to mental health, so you might as well use it.

Get professional help

Although much has been done to streamline buyers' experiences with the state exchange, it can still be a confusing process.

"Clients tell me they started the process, then get frustrated and give up because it's too complicated and they run into too many issues with the application process," said Amy Greinke, a health insurance broker with Alpine Insurance in Edwards.

Brokers like Greinke are agents for individuals to utilize for free for assistance in working through the enrollment process and enrolling in a plan that makes sense for them. Brokers are certified through Connect for Health Colorado and are paid directly via insurance carriers, which makes their services ideal for individuals or families who have to buy their own plans from the state exchange.

The types of insurance don't change, just the help consumers receive when looking for coverage and trying to apply for tax credits to pay for monthly payments.

"Working with an agent does not cost the customer any money and does not change the premium at all," said Greinke via email. "A person can buy the same plans on their own or work with an agent, and by law, the premium on an identical plan will always be the same."

Brokers concede that the exchange still has its flaws; the online system isn't very user-friendly, and although there have been adjustments to help with the high costs of insurance in the mountains, premiums in this area still are inflated compared with areas such as Denver. And although the system isn't perfect, it's still the most available way to buy insurance for the upcoming year at the lowest price available.

For more information on enrolling in health insurance via Connect for Health Colorado, visit connectfor healthco.com.

Find a broker

• Alpine Insurance, Edwards, 970-926-1717, alpineinsurancecolorado.com

• Arrow Insurance Management, 970-949-5110, arrowinsurance.net

• Brill Insurance Agency, 970-845-8910, brillinsurance.net

• Insurance of the Rockies, 970-668-6391, insuranceoftherockies.com

• Insurance by Marci Inc., 970-845-8707, insbymarci.com

By the numbers

If you’re paying full price for health insurance and you fall into one of these categories, you might want to look at Connect for Health Colorado, the Colorado state insurance marketplace, to apply for tax credits. Credits are available for:

• Individuals making between $15,000 and $45,500.

• Couples earning between $20,500 and $62,000.

• Households of four earning between $31,000 and $94,000.

According to the Colorado Health Institute, as of 2015:

• Eagle County has 53,861 residents.

• 16.82 percent of residents are uninsured, compared to the state average of 15.5 percent.

• 13.7 percent of residents are enrolled in Medicaid, compared to the state average of 22.8 percent.