GLENWOOD SPRINGS — County commissioners say they will challenge a decision by state insurance officials to group Garfield County in the more expensive resort rating area as part of Colorado’s new health insurance exchange.
“I am concerned, and I think we need to do everything we can as a county to protest this, even go to court,” Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said during a discussion at the Monday Board of County Commissioners meeting. “It’s very close to an outrage for our county.”
Connect for Health Colorado is the state’s new health insurance exchange that was set up to provide insurance options to individuals, families and businesses under the federal Affordable Care Act’s mandate that everyone carry health insurance or face a tax penalty.
While the intent of the ACA is to lower health care costs by providing affordable insurance coverage to uninsured Americans, it’s having the opposite effect in areas where health care costs are deemed to be higher than average.
The Colorado Insurance Commission, in establishing 11 rating areas in the state, lumped Garfield County in with three neighboring resort counties, Pitkin, Eagle and Summit, for determining health insurance rates.
The result is that insurance premiums for the area are significantly more than in other parts of the state, as many consumers have reportedly now discovered since the exchange officially opened on Oct. 1, in advance of the individual mandate provision taking effect in 2014.
Commissioners said they have all heard from constituents asking them to request Garfield County’s removal from the more expensive rating area.
Jankovsky suggested the criteria used in determining the rates was “flawed,” because it failed to consider Garfield County’s higher poverty level, lower wages and other demographic differences compared to the other three counties.
It also used Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, Aspen Valley Hospital, Vail Valley Medical Center and St. Anthony’s Summit Medical Center, but excluded Grand River Hospital District in Rifle, in comparing costs for several types of procedures, he noted.
Jankovsky said one county resident said to him that he entered the same information into the insurance exchange system to get a quote for a family plan, using both a Garfield County and Mesa County ZIP code, and received a quote of $500 per month less for Mesa County.
A similar anecdote involved an individual with an $800 per month out-of-pocket expense currently who will need to buy new insurance, and who doesn’t fall into the lower income category for a federal subsidy.
That person searched for a high-deductible “Bronze” plan in the exchange, and received a premium quote of $1,060 per month for Garfield County. Upon entering the same information for a Denver ZIP code, that same person was quoted $538, Jankovsky said.
“When you talk about economic development, that’s money out of the pockets of our citizens,” he said.
Garfield County Attorney Frank Hutfless said he, too, has found inconsistencies in his research in the way the rates were established for the different rating areas.
“We are also left with the question of how Garfield County came to be defined to be part of the resort area,” he said.
Hutfless said he will prepare a memo outlining the commissioners’ options, which could range from writing letters expressing the county’s concerns to state insurance officials and state legislators providing arguments for removing the county from the resort rating area, to taking court action if necessary.