Health care shopping season underway; premiums increasing at a smaller rate than in years past
EAGLE COUNTY — The timing of open enrollment coincides nicely with the holiday season, and this year the experts are recommending a shop until you drop approach.
More than 2,700 Eagle County residents currently purchase their health insurance through the state’s online exchange, Connect for Health Colorado, and those customers have until Dec. 15 to select a plan and have it take effect by Jan. 1, 2019.
While Eagle County doesn’t have as many options as our neighbors on the Front Range, there’s still plenty of ways to shop and save.
The first thing the experts recommend is to see if you qualify for any tax credits.
It’s a familiar demographic in Eagle County — you’re not married, you’re not offered insurance through your employer and you make less than $48,560 per year. If this describes you, then you qualify for a tax credit in 2019.
Eagle County only has about half as many plans as Denver County, for example, but the different tiers within those plans — bronze, silver and gold — are where the savings can occur for shoppers.
This year, while price increases can be seen in the silver plans, the gold plans have very little increase and the bronze plans have virtually no increase on average in Eagle County.
“You can use the tax credits on gold, silver or bronze, but say the price of a silver plan goes up 10 percent and the price of a gold plan goes up 1 percent, your tax credit is 10 percent more valuable, so that’s going to drive down the cost of your bronze plan or your gold plan,” said Joe Hanel, managing director of communications for Colorado Health Institute. “If you had a silver plan last year, I might advise you to take advantage of a gold plan this year, it might be cheaper than what you were paying last year for a silver plan. And a lot of people — if you don’t think you’re going to need your insurance that much — will be able to get a bronze plan for a zero monthly premium.”
In 2019, monthly premiums are increasing at a smaller rate than in previous years, especially in Eagle County.
According to numbers released by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies on Friday, Nov. 2, Eagle County will see an average rate increase of 4.2 percent, compared to an increase of more than 6 percent for most areas on the Front Range.
Compare that to 2017, when state regulators approved a 27 percent hike in individual insurance premiums and the Trump administration cut cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers.
“That year, insurers all across the country raised their prices, and in Colorado it added an extra 6 percentage points or so to the cost of insurance,” Hanel said. “Most states said just raise the silver plan prices and nothing else, because that’s the plan those reductions are available on. But Colorado spread it across the gold and bronze plans, as well. This year we joined most other states in saying load it all onto the silver.”
That’s why, in Eagle County, the seven gold plans available have an average increase of 2.3 percent, and the 13 bronze plans have an average increase of only 0.5 percent, while the 14 silver plans available have an average increase of 11.6 percent.
‘MOST PEOPLE KNOW’
If all that shopping is making you dizzy, you’re not alone.
Bethe Wright, with Wright Insurance Co. in Eagle, says she doesn’t think people are as excited about shopping for health plans as they are for Christmas presents.
“I don’t know if there’s a whole lot of people shopping,” she said. “This is the fourth year that we’re into this,” people who know about the system or the people that haven’t done anything yet aren’t shopping around because they don’t believe in insurance, she said.
Wright says that’s a dangerous game to play. So called “health care plans,” and “faith based plans” are not insurance, she warns.
“You pay into the pot with no guarantee you’ll ever get payment from them,” Wright said. “I hope when they buy it they understand it.”
Vail Daily Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart contributed reporting to this story.