Health insurance bills meant to cut premiums on Colorado mountain towns died in senate committee | PostIndependent.com

Health insurance bills meant to cut premiums on Colorado mountain towns died in senate committee

Colorado's insurance premiums vary depending on geographic regions. The mountain resort region, 11, has some of the highest premiums in the state because of high health care costs in the region.

Two bills meant to help give Coloradans relief on health insurance premiums, especially residents of mountain counties, were both shot down Friday.

HB 1384, which sought to explore more affordable health care coverage options, and HB 1392, meant to significantly reduce premiums by buffering insurers against high-cost insurance claims, were both buried in 3-2 votes by Republican state senators Hill, Marble and Sonnenberg.

The bills would have tried to address skyrocketing premiums in the state. According to an analysis from the Colorado Health Institute, health insurance premiums in Colorado have risen by 76 percent since 2014, with a 32 percent jump since last year. The increase is driven primarily by an exodus of insurance carriers from the state, as well as uncertainty about the future of the Affordable Care Act under the Trump administration. HB 1384 would have studied more options for a health care system to avoid such pitfalls, including public-private partnerships and local insurance pools.

The failure to pass HB 1392, despite support in the state House, is particularly disappointing for many advocates for lower premiums in Summit and the Western Slope. The bill would have created a "reinsurance" program that would help health insurers pay for particularly expensive insurance claims, lowering their costs and passing on the savings to consumers. Reinsurance would have also stabilized prices for an individual health market that has been in constant flux for years.

The program would have been particularly helpful for areas with the highest premiums, like Summit, as it would have covered 30 percent of claim costs in areas with the highest premiums while covering 20 percent for the rest of the state.

County Commissioner Dan Gibbs, who was a major proponent of both the study and reinsurance bills, said he was "terribly disappointed" by the loss.

"Colorado was not going out on a limb by considering these policy solutions," Gibbs said. "Other states have implemented similar measures and found them to be incredibly successful in driving down premiums for their citizens. It defies common sense that we would not implement those proven solutions here."

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Gibbs was also critical of the senators who voted to kill the bills in committee.

"I'd like to know why senators Sonnenberg, Marble and Hill voted against these measures," Gibbs continued. "I'd like to be able to look my constituents in the eyes and tell them why these Colorado legislators chose not to help, when working families are paying monthly health insurance premiums that are the same amount as their mortgage."

The nonprofit Family & Intercultural Resource Center said it was also disappointed in the loss of the bills. While acknowledging that there was no known sure-fire way to tackle the premium hikes, the bills were a good first step.

"While there are larger conversations necessary to address cost containment, establishing a high-risk reinsurance program is a first step to solving our health care crisis," FIRC said in a statement advocating HB 1392's passage.

Aubrey Hill, director of health systems change at the nonprofit Center for Health Progress, said her organization also supported the reinsurance bill and hopes to see progress in the future.

"We understand there's a lot of areas in the state where health insurance is unaffordable, and the bill was one option to address some of the high costs," Hill said. "We are disappointed it did not pass the Senate. But we're hoping to continue the conversation and find a solution that will start bringing down costs for regular people."

Gibbs echoed optimism that the state Legislature will be able to get something substantive done after this year's elections.

"This was a serious missed opportunity, but I'm hopeful and confident that we'll be able to overcome this obstruction next year," Gibbs said. "It's unfortunate that Colorado's working families will spend yet another year paying through the nose for their health care. But we are not giving up, and I know this issue is going to be one of the top issues our voters are thinking about when they go to the polls in November."