Summit County residents urged to comment on health insurance proposal
May 4, 2014
Summit residents could see lower health insurance premiums if Colorado adopts changes proposed by the state Division of Insurance Friday.
"I feel so encouraged," County Commissioner Dan Gibbs said Saturday, but "we're going to need our community in Summit County to really step up."
The Summit Board of County Commissioners urged residents to comment by the deadline Wednesday, May 7.
At a meeting Friday morning in Denver, state officials recommended changes to the geographic rating system used by insurers. Under the existing system, Summit, Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties are grouped together as Rating Area 11, dubbed the resort region.
Since Colorado adopted the state health insurance exchange, the resort region, which includes Summit County, has had the most expensive premiums in the nation.
According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, this region has the most expensive premiums in the nation. Plan participants pay hundreds more for their monthly premiums than what they'd pay for similar plans in other Colorado regions.
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"This really is going to determine whether or not working families can afford to continue to live here or not," Gibbs said Thursday. "Families already have enough on their plates with things like rent, mortgages and car payments, and for a lot of them these outrageous insurance costs could be the breaking point."
The division proposed merging the resort region with the more than one dozen rural western Colorado counties in the west region, enlarging the pool of plan participants. It would also merge the current northeast and southeast regions, creating seven regions based on metropolitan areas and two rural regions — one for the eastern plains and one for the Western Slope.
The merger would lower premiums in the resort region and raise them for people in the current west region, Gibbs said. By how much will remain unclear until insurers have time to react to the proposal and change their rates.
Gibbs added that the change would impact costs for all Summit residents, not just those buying insurance through the state marketplace.
After public comments close Wednesday, insurance commissioner Marguerite Salazar and the Division of Insurance will announce a decision Friday, May 9. If implemented, the changes would take effect Jan. 1.
Another announcement was made Friday that could lower insurance costs in Summit.
Kaiser Permanente, the state's largest nonprofit health plan, announced that it plans to expand coverage to mountain communities along the Interstate 70 corridor, with a goal of beginning coverage in 2016.
Gibbs called this good news as more competition generally lowers costs to consumers, and some Summit residents now spend 15 to 25 percent of their incomes on health insurance.
"I'd rather have more insurance providers, not just more in number," he said, "but good quality providers that offer reasonable rates for our citizens."
Commissioner Thomas Davidson said the next step in lowering health insurance premiums locally will be increasing transparency in how health care providers set their costs and creating a more accurate and complete picture in the Colorado All Payers Claims Database, which collects information used to generate insurance rates.
"They're only looking at data from insurers providing policies to people out there on the open marketplace," Davidson said.
He wants the county to work with larger private and public employers to release information about what they and their insurers are paying.
To comment on the proposal, email DORA_georatings@state.co.us on or before Wednesday, May 7.