Colorado approved a proposal Friday to change Colorado’s health insurance regions in hopes of lowering premiums for residents of Summit County and other mountain resort areas.
“Our community of Summit County really showed up to share our story,” said County Commissioner Dan Gibbs. “I can’t thank our community enough for stepping up and for being a part of the process.”
The proposal received 306 comments, and of those, 138 comments addressed the region changes, with 117 in support.
The state Division of Insurance will eliminate a mountainous zone dubbed the “resort region,” because it includes the ski resorts of Breckenridge, Vail and Aspen, to reduce health insurance premiums in the nation’s most expensive geographic zone.
Instead, Summit, Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties join other rural areas in western Colorado.
The change would reduce premiums slightly in the resort region, while health insurance premiums on the individual market would go up slightly in other areas of western Colorado. Mesa County, home to Grand Junction, would still be its own rating area.
Two eastern Colorado regions would also merge, so the state’s new map would keep seven metro areas and combine four current rural regions into two.
Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar said in a statement Friday that the nine rating areas would be the fairest way to blunt sky-high premiums in the resort area.
It’s too soon to know exactly how premiums would change, as insurers haven’t turned in proposals yet for 2015 pricing, when the change would take effect.
Next the federal authorities will approve the change. Then the state division of insurance will extend the deadline for insurance carriers to submit their rate plans, from May 15 to June 6.
The resort area was named the nation’s most expensive by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. In this part of the state, the cheapest mid-level plan is $483 a month. In Denver, the same plan is about $280 a month. The new health care law doesn’t allow insurers to use health conditions to set premiums. Insurers may use only three criteria for setting premiums — age, tobacco use and geography.
One of the chief critics of Colorado’s health-insurance zones, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, favored the nine-area plan earlier this week.
“I am hopeful that this change will bring down the staggering premiums” faced by people in the resort region, wrote Polis, whose district includes part of the region.
Joining the four counties would be most of western Colorado excluding Mesa County. Jackson, Moffat, Gunnison and Montezuma counties would all be in the new rural western Colorado region.
Colorado was originally divided into nine regions before the Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2013. The divisions are driven by insurance companies, which benefit financially, and are approved by the state, Gibbs said. He thinks consumers would benefit if the state had only one insurance region, he said, and he would rather have fewer insurance providers if it meant more affordable, quality insurance.
Gibbs said he and other Summit leaders will continue meeting with health care providers and working with them to lower the high cost of health care in mountain communities.
Kristen Wyatt of the Associated Press contributed to this report.