Colorado Legislation Proposed to Lower the Cost of Mountain Health Plans

by   Eagle County Commissioner – Jill Ryan

In October 2015, the phone started ringing.  It was open enrollment time and once again, Eagle County residents began sounding the alarm on the high cost of health plans in the market place.  One resident told us his individual “Bronze” plan was increasing from $433 to $744 per month. This equaled 15 percent of his take home pay, and it still had a $6,000 deductible. 

Around the same time, the Colorado Division of Insurance announced it was closing Colorado HealthOP, a low-cost plan that was popular in high-cost areas, like rural resort communities.  Eagle County residents would now only have four plans from which to choose.

As county commissioners, we had tackled this problem once before.  Soon after implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that Colorado’s geographic insurance rating area 11– Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Garfield counties–had the highest premiums in the nation.  Elected officials lobbied for a change, and the Division of Insurance received permission from the federal government to combine all Western Slope counties (with the exception of Mesa), into one rating Area 9.  That was 2014.

Everything costs more in resort communities, including health care. Under current law, health insurers can consider the geographic location of the policyholder, and health care costs in the area, when establishing individual and group insurance rates.  For example, an Eagle County family of four that purchased their own health plan, pays between $189 and $396 a month more than the same family living in the Denver Metro Area.

Eagle County is not alone.  In October, commissioners from around the region began to talk. How can we sustain a workforce if the cost of health care tips the scale between making it work and having to leave? Seven counties and our state legislators began working on a fix. The result is House bill 1336, with bi-partisan sponsorship.

L-R-Mark-Hall-Centura-Health-JJ-Board-of-Eagle-County-Commissioners-1(L-R)  Commissioners – Jill Ryan, Kathy Chandler-Henry, Jeanne McQueeney

(Through a meeting arranged by folks at the   EagleCountyTimes   on July 22nd 2015 all Commissioners  met with Mark Hallman of Centura Health – to listen to what Centura’s new 50,000sq/ft Medical Office Building (now under construction in Avon) can do to help drive Healthcare costs lower in Eagle County.)

House Bill 1336 directs the Colorado Commissioner of Insurance to study the impacts and viability of establishing a single rating area–the entire state–for individuals and families purchasing plans in the market place.  The study is to be completed by August 2016, which would allow enough time for 2017 legislation, should the conclusions be positive.  Group plans would not be included, as one rating area for all plans would likely not be financially feasible for insurance companies and could further reduce options in rural areas.

The bill is being heard in the House on Thursday, March 24th 2016.  I will testify, along with residents and other policy makers to make our case.  Affordable health care, affordable childcare and affordable housing are the conditions needed to sustain a workforce and a community.  This is why they are priorities of your Eagle County Commissioners.

Thank You online Petition Signers – Petition advanced this week by Chris Neuswanger is support of HB 1336. (Click Here)

Jill Ryan is an Eagle County Commissioner

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