Hamner and Gibbs: A healthcare crisis in Colorado’s High Country
Over the last few years, the rising cost of health insurance in Summit County has become a crisis for many individuals and families who purchase health insurance on the individual market. Unfortunately, the Colorado Division of Insurance recently reported that we will not see any improvements in 2018. The agency is projecting a potential 37 percent increase in premiums for the Western Region, compared to just 24 percent in the rest of the state.
As elected officials for Summit County, we are acutely aware of the pressing need for a solution to this problem. Over the past three years, we have been working closely with the Governor’s Office, the Division of Insurance and other local and state officials on the Western Slope to find answers.
In 2016, we asked why some residents are forced to pay more simply because of where they live. In other words, why are health insurance rates determined regionally, when other forms of insurance are not? Working with Rep. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale), and county commissioners throughout the region, Rep. Hamner passed legislation during the 2016 session that directed the Division of Insurance to study the plausibility of creating a single rating area for the entire state. The study concluded that such a change could lower premiums for the Western Region by 22 percent, but the Division of Insurance ultimately recommended against the creation of a single rating area, citing among other factors that rates on the Front Range would increase.
During the 2017 legislative session, we introduced several pieces of legislation that could have provided some relief to consumers in the Western Region and across rural Colorado. House Bill 17-1235 by Rep. Hamner and former Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush (D-Steamboat Springs) would have provided emergency assistance to middle-income families and individuals who spend more than 15 percent of their annual income on health insurance. House Bill 17-1237, also by Rep. Hamner, would have allowed local governments to provide health benefits to their employees through the group benefit plans offered to state employees. Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Vail) carried SB17-004, which would have required carriers to offer catastrophic plans to eligible individuals in rural areas.
Unfortunately, all three bills were blocked in the State Senate despite bipartisan backing in both chambers and support from the Governor’s Office. Despite these setbacks, we have developed a series of goals for addressing this issue on the state and local levels as we head into the 2018 legislative session.
For 2018, Reps. Hamner and Rankin plan to introduce legislation to create a single statewide rating region for those purchasing health insurance on the individual market. The bill would also establish cost limits for medical procedures, similar to a model created by the state of Maryland. The intent is to increase equity among insurance rates throughout Colorado while also working to contain costs within the pharmaceutical and medical provider sectors.
Increased transparency and consumer protection is another major goal for 2018, which we hope to achieve by pushing for more transparent and publicly available data that focuses on facilities, pharmaceuticals and providers’ prices. This is data that should be readily available for consumers, and providers should be required to post data that is timely, accessible, consumer-friendly and consistently up-to-date. Making this information public is important so that patients know what they’re getting into and providers can better understand how their rates compare to those of other providers.
At the local level, Commissioner Gibbs is working with large employers, state agencies, health care providers and health insurance carriers to collect more complete and accurate data about how the Summit County population uses medical services. This would increase public access to information about providers and the prices they charge for their services.
As we continue to work on solutions at the state and local levels, and weigh in on proposals at the federal level, it is important that Summit County residents take advantage of existing resources that can help reduce financial strain. Despite the current rhetoric surrounding health insurance, the Affordable Care Act is still in effect and a significant number of people in Summit County who are not enrolled qualify for low-cost plans, tax credits and premium discounts. The Summit County Family and Intercultural Resource Center and the Summit County Human Services Department are valuable resources for any questions you might have on enrollment.
Millie Hamner is Summit County’s state representative. Dan Gibbs is a Summit County commissioner.
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