Colorado looking at average individual insurance rate increase of 27 percent
DENVER — If you buy individual health insurance on a state exchange, then you’ll pay an average of one-third more for it next year.
Individual market insurance premiums will increase by an average of 27 percent across Colorado, and 7 percent for small groups, according to statistics from the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies’ Division of Insurance.
Cigna wants Colorado’s biggest premium increase, 41.2 percent.
Two of Anthem Blue Cross’s divisions are asking for substantial rate increases: Anthem HMO, 30.20 percent, and Anthem Rocky Mountain Hospital & Medical Service, 33.50 percent.
Kaiser Permanente is asking for a 24.4 percent increase.
The rate-review process is a balancing act that ensures premiums are neither too high for consumers to pay, nor so low that they threaten the solvency of the insurance companies in the marketplace. The Division also must make sure that plans comply with federal and state laws.
According to its website, the Division of Insurance “does not set insurance premiums, but will review what the companies submitted to determine if the requested increases or decreases are justified.”
In late September or early October, after reviewing the submissions, the Division will announce which plans will be available in which counties and the final premiums.
“People cannot afford what they’re doing now, plus another 30 percent,” said Bethe Wright, of the Wright Insurance Co. in Eagle. “People who have to pay 100 percent of their premiums are going to take a hit.”
High health care costs
Residents of Colorado’s resort region — Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Garfield counties — already choke down some of the nation’s highest health insurance rates.
Health insurance is expensive because the region has the state’s highest heath care costs, said Marguerite Salazar, Colorado’s insurance commissioner.
In 2016, Colorado lawmakers ordered the state’s Division of Insurance to study making Colorado one health insurance region.
That study, released in August, showed that Western Colorado has the state’s highest health insurance premiums because it has the state’s highest health care costs.
In 2014, people in Western Colorado spent an average of $5,532, the highest amount in the state. That’s 36 percent more than Boulder’s per-person cost of $4,073, Colorado’s lowest.
The study determined that making Colorado one big health insurance coverage area could reduce Western Colorado health insurance rates by as much as 26.9 percent. However, Boulder’s rates could jump 17.2 percent.
Salazar recommended focusing on controlling health care costs as a way to address rising premiums.
“A move to a single geographic rating area would be an attempt to treat a symptom rather than finding a cure,” Salazar said in the report.
‘Lack of clarity’
Salazar blamed this year’s rate increases on “lack of clarity at the federal level,” as Congress bickers about what part of the Affordable Care Act will be repealed and replaced, if any. It creates “a great deal of uncertainty in the marketplace,” Salazar said.
“These premium increases are not a surprise,” Salazar said.
About 6 percent of Coloradans buy individual health insurance through the state exchange. Half of Coloradans receive health insurance through their employers, according to the Division of Insurance.
Many buying health insurance on the state exchange are self-employed business operators, Wright said. Others are hourly workers trying to make ends meet.
“It’s going to push more and more healthy people out of the market,” Wright said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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