Garfield County seeks audience with governor over health care rates
January 13, 2014
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County commissioners want a face-to-face meeting with Gov. John Hickenlooper to discuss what the county believes to be a "flawed and misinformed" decision by the state in setting the area's health insurance rates.
And commissioners contend in a letter approved Monday to be sent to the governor that local consumers shouldn't have to wait until 2015 for relief from the higher rates that come with being lumped into the more expensive resort rating area.
"There couldn't be a bigger issue out there for Garfield County in 2014," Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said during the regular Monday Board of County Commissioners meeting. "This needs to be our number one priority."
The commissioners' request for a meeting with Hickenlooper comes in response to statements by state insurance officials last month that Garfield County may have a case in asking to be reassigned to another rating area, but that changes cannot be made to the rating system this year.
County Attorney Frank Hutfless said he has examined the federal laws and regulations associated with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), under which Colorado's 11 rating areas were created, and sees no reason why adjustments couldn't be made sooner.
Short of taking legal action or asking for a full legislative investigation into the decisions made by the Colorado Department of Insurance (DOI) in setting up the rating areas, the county would like for Hickenlooper to intervene.
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"In effect, the rates that have been imposed upon us by your DOI action are inconsistent with our health care costs and experiences, are inexplicably higher than rates imposed upon others with greater health care costs and lower costs of living," the commissioners' letter to Hickenlooper states.
Applying the higher resort-area rates to Garfield County "can only be described as discriminatory, which we believe to be a violation of federal law," the county contends.
Last spring, the DOI set up 11 different "geographical rating areas" used to implement the ACA, or "Obamacare," in Colorado.
The recommended zones came from an industry group called the Colorado Association of Health Plans and was essentially adopted "verbatim" by the DOI in submitting the state's implementation plan to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Garfield County alleges in its letter to the governor.
"In other words, the DOI essentially asked the HHS to approve a statewide Colorado insurance rating plan that was devised by those entities that stand to profit financially from that plan," the county contends.
Based on that recommendation, Garfield County was placed in the Resort Rating Area 11 along with Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties.
The result, the county claims in its letter to the governor, is health insurance premiums and deductibles that are expected to run Garfield County residents three to four times as much as they could pay for health insurance before the ACA was implemented.
Jankovsky noted that an estimated 30 percent of Garfield County's population is uninsured.
"That number will not decrease, and will probably increase because of these high rates," Jankovsky said. "There's nothing affordable about the Affordable Care Act in Garfield County."
Small businesses that are required to provide health insurance to their employees under the ACA will also be negatively impacted, according to the county.
"Soon, our small business owners will have to lay off employees in order to afford health care costs for a few remaining employers, or simply go out of business," the county's letter states.
The commissioners said they want to meet with Hickenlooper as soon as possible so that any adverse economic consequences can be prevented.