Guest commentary: Still many options for individual health plans for Coloradans
December 2, 2016
Colorado residents who purchase individual health insurance plans (insurance they don't get through their employer) should be ready to confront a range of cost and coverage changes when weighing potential health plans for next year.
In September, the Colorado Division of Insurance released information for health plans and premiums for 2017 and confirmed that four insurance companies will not offer individual plans or will significantly cut back their individual plan options next year. As a result, roughly 92,000 people with individual plans from UnitedHealthcare, Humana Insurance, Rocky Mountain Health Plans and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield will need to find new coverage for 2017.
So, what should you do if you find out you're one of the individuals whose plan is being discontinued? First, don't panic. Your current plan will continue until the end of year. Second, make sure you know that the annual open enrollment period for individual plans that began Nov. 1 runs through Jan. 31. Remember that even though open enrollment runs through the end of January, if you enroll before the end of this year you can avoid a gap in coverage. If you enroll after Jan. 1, your coverage won't start until February, or even March.
There are some steps you can take that might make the process of finding a new plan a bit easier. Be aware of all of your options, especially if your circumstances have changed in the past year. Do you now have access to an employer's plan through your job or your spouse or partner? If so, which plans are available and when is the employer's open enrollment period? This can be particularly valuable if you don't qualify for a subsidy through Colorado's health insurance exchange, Connect for Health Colorado.
Here are some other actions to consider for those who'll be searching for new coverage in the coming months.
1. Assess your health care needs. Make a list of all of the medications you take regularly and find out how they are covered in any new plans you are considering. It's also wise to have a list of your doctors, so you can check if those physicians are included in the other plans' networks. If you haven't had a wellness exam in awhile, it might be worth scheduling an appointment to make sure you're aware of any new issues. Ask yourself if you anticipate any big health care expenses in the next year. Do you have any procedures planned or are you considering expanding your family? Those are questions you'll want to consider when deciding on new coverage.
2. Consider your financial status. Depending on your income, you may qualify for a premium subsidy through Connect for Health Colorado. Visit connectforhealthco.com to use their subsidy estimating tool. You may also qualify for Health First Colorado, Colorado's Medicaid program, or, if you have children under the age of 18, your kids might qualify for lower-cost coverage under the state's Child Health Plan Plus, known as CHP+.
3. Get help. Connect for Health Colorado has a statewide group of coverage guides and insurance agents (brokers) that have been trained on how to effectively navigate the exchange and answer questions about health insurance. Because they're working in the trenches every day, they are familiar with the universe of options. It's also worthwhile to ask friends and colleagues if they have an insurance agent they recommend. Finally, don't forget that the Division of Insurance can serve as a resource if you have questions about your current plan, how the world of health insurance works or even how to get started. Call us at 303-894-7490 or 1-800-930-3745 (outside the Denver metro area), or visit us online at AskDORA.colorado.gov. However, know that the Division of Insurance cannot actually enroll you in a health plan.
The Division of Insurance encourages consumers to shop around even if they aren't losing their plan. There are 277 individual health plans to choose from in 2017, 132 on the exchange and 145 off the exchange, although not all plans are available in all parts of the state.
Marguerite Salazar is the Colorado Insurance Commissioner and chief executive of the Division of Insurance. She was appointed by Governor John Hickenlooper in August 2013.