Controlling health costs will ‘take time,’ officials say
By the numbers
2.5 percent: Eagle County unemployment rate, 2015.
50 percent: Vail Valley employers offering family health insurance plans to employees in 2015.
55 percent: Companies offering workday fitness programs in 2015.
45 percent: Colorado businesses that report “moderate” to “a great deal” of impact from the Affordable Care Act.*
Sources: Vail Valley Partnership, *Delta Dental.
EDWARDS — There’s something missing for mountain residents in the federal Affordable Care Act — affordability.
While rates for 2017 haven’t been set yet, Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar told a nearly full Colorado Mountain College lecture hall recently that rates could rise as much as 40 percent for people who buy their own health insurance.
Compounding that problem is the loss of companies providing insurance for those people.
Starting in 2017, only two companies will offer those plans through state-established exchanges that provide subsidies for buyers. Anthem Blue Cross is scaling back and will offer plans only into a health maintenance organization, or HMO. Rocky Mountain Health Plan is also scaling back, offering insurance over a smaller area of the mountains and Western Slope.
“It’s a market correction — it happens all the time,” Salazar said, adding that people are noticing because of the care act’s transparency, as well as the federal mandate to buy health insurance or face often-substantial fines on tax day.
Due to the vagaries of the act, residents of Colorado’s mountain counties have been paying the highest individual rates in the nation. Some relief may be on the way, thanks to a bill passed this year by the Colorado Legislature. That bill requires the Division of Insurance to conduct a study about rates in the state’s rating areas. Moving the state into one rating area may help costs in the mountains and other rural areas.
That report is due by Aug. 1, but Salazar said preliminary results show that insurance buyers in the Denver/Boulder area might see increases of between 4 and 11 percent. People in the rest of the state buying their own insurance could see rate reductions of between 4 and 20 percent.
Salazar said state regulators would continue to work to help make health insurance more affordable. But, she added, costs are ultimately up to insurers and medical providers.
Vail Valley Medical Center CEO Doris Kirchner and Kaiser Permanente Colorado Regional Vice President Jandel Allen-Davis both spent some time talking about ways their organizations try to rein in costs.
Kirchner said hospital officials spend a lot of time trying to contain costs — and increases have averaged 2 percent per year for the past five years. But, she added, the medical center is constrained by a combination of what it pays suppliers as well as the higher cost of living in the Vail Valley.
The Kaiser system is different, combining both insurance and medical care. Patients in that system often travel from mountain counties to the Denver area for care and treatment. But, Allen-Davis said, Kaiser is sending specialists to Summit and Eagle counties, and has contracted with local doctors, including at Colorado Mountain Medical.
Allen-Davis said Kaiser is looking at a range of social issues as well, including the jobs people work, accessibility to healthy food and the kinds of housing available to lower-income customers.
“It all takes time,” Allen-Davis said. “But we’ll get there.”
On the insurance side, Anthem Regional Vice President Janet Pogar said that company — the only one offering individual coverage throughout Colorado — has been working to get its costs down. In the mountains, the company has a policy called Mountain Enhanced.
After the discussion, Colorado Mountain Medical CEO Dr. Brooks Bock said that physicians’ practice, along with Vail Valley Medical Center and other providers in the region, worked to create the Mountain Enhanced program.
“We’re making progress,” Bock said.
But a lot has to happen before the system can work somewhat smoothly. That includes insurance buyers educating themselves.
“You need to understand the math [of a policy] — otherwise you could really be hit,” Delta Dental Marketing Director Kathy Jacoby said. “You need to put in the same diligence as you would [for your] 401k.”
After the meeting, Nick Budor, an agent for Farmer’s Insurance, said that education can start by talking to an insurance broker.
“There was a question today about how someone gets started,” Budor said. “You talk to someone like me.”
Budor added that he was impressed by what he heard Tuesday.
“I love to hear the leaders talking about this,” he said. “It matters to them, and to us. It’s at the top of everybody’s mind.”
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