GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County residents will have to live within the state’s higher resort-area health insurance rating system for at least a year before the county is likely to be able to make any changes.
“While the geographic areas and premium rates have been set for 2014, we are already beginning the review process for 2015,” Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar informed Garfield County Attorney Frank Hutfless and county commissioners in letter forwarded just before Monday’s regularly scheduled county commissioners meeting.
In January, insurance carriers begin the process of setting their premium rates for the ensuing year, which must be submitted by April 15, 2014, she said.
In the meantime, the Colorado Division of Insurance will be setting up forums across the state to discuss local issues and concerns about how the new state health insurance exchange is being run.
That’s likely to include a meeting in Garfield County, Salazar said in her letter.
Garfield County commissioners indicated two weeks ago that they would challenge the decision to place the county in the resort rating area along with Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties.
The result was a higher rate structure under the first year of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), based primarily on health care costs in the region.
“I’m still outraged by this, and I think it’s awful,” said Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, who has said he would be willing to go as far as taking legal action to have Garfield County put in a different rating area.
“It’s a slap in the face, and it’s going to hurt all of our constituents from the neediest to the most wealthy in our county,” Jankovsky said of health insurance rates that are double or more what they are in other parts of Colorado.
“Even if someone qualifies for a (federal) subsidy, they’re still going to be paying more,” he said.
For now, “we are where we are, unfortunately,” said Hutfless, who added that based on his phone conversation with Salazar and her follow-up letter, “I am guardedly optimistic that we can get something resolved for the benefit of our people here.”
Salazar said in her letter that the state bases its rate structuring on three primary principles outline in the ACA, which are that:
• Insurance rates should not be excessive, inadequate, or unfairly discriminatory;
• Consumers should have the greatest choice of policies at the most reasonable cost possible; and,
• There should be open competition between insurers.
“It is unfortunate that such widespread discussion could not occur for 2014, because the federal requirements were provided to the state with a very short time frame to respond,” Salazar stated in her letter.
“My hope is that by engaging in these discussions, we can achieve a fair and balanced outcome for 2015,” she said.
Commission Chairman John Martin said he believes the insurance rating is another example of a discriminatory rural/urban divide in Colorado.
“If we are to stay in the highest rating area in the state, we are being discriminated against, even though the federal regulations say we won’t be,” he said. “It is in the best interests of our citizens that we stay engaged in this ... and promote a change that is fair and equitable.”
Jankovsky added that the higher rates will be experienced by small businesses as well. In addition to the individual mandate for everyone to carry health insurance, the ACA mandates that all businesses with 50 or more full-time employees offer health insurance to their workers, or a pay a tax penalty.
Instead of covering the higher insurance premiums under the new system, “businesses are just going to look at paying the $200 penalty,” Jankovsky said.