Basalt forum set to help people who are scrambling for health insurance | AspenTimes.com

Basalt forum set to help people who are scrambling for health insurance

State Sen. Kerry Donovan speaks at a town-hall style meeting Thursday at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. Donovan, a Vail Democrat, helped organize a health insurance forum that will be held in Basalt Thursday.

Two events will be held in Basalt this week to try to provide answers to people staggering from soaring costs of health insurance and scrambling to find coverage for 2016.

A forum will be held Thursday to discuss the health-insurance challenges facing residents of the Roaring Fork Valley and other rural, mountain areas of Colorado.

Then on Saturday, six to eight insurance brokers will be available to help people pick specific coverage.

The events were organized by Robin Waters, president of the Basalt Chamber of Commerce, after Colorado HealthOP, a low-cost insurance co-op, was ordered shut down in October by the state government. Hundreds of people in the Roaring Fork Valley had their polices canceled for 2016 and little time to find a new insurer.

Waters was among those who lost insurance.

"Health-insurance premiums in our community have risen and options have narrowed as major providers move out of the area and reduce plan diversity," Waters said in a statement. "This impacts both individuals and local small-business owners. While I hear heartwarming stories of people benefited by tax credits, new provisions of the Affordable Care Act and group insurance programs, an inordinate number of people I talk to are worried and confused."

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She started working on the forum two weeks ago as a way to get answers for people frustrated and confused by the current insurance situation.

The event, called the Basalt Colorado Rural Health Insurance Community Forum, will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Basalt Middle School. The event is free and open to the public. Waters said she hopes people throughout Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties will attend.

The officials who will make presentations include two representatives of the Colorado Division of Insurance; State Sen. Kerry Donovan; former State Sen. Gail Schwartz; Valley View Hospital Chief Financial Officer Larry Dupper; and Linda Gann, West Slope senior manager for Connect for Health Colorado, an organization established by the state to help people find insurance after the federal Affordable Care Act was approved.

Waters said in an interview that there is a sense of "helplessness" among people who feel distanced from decision-makers. Statewide rates recently approved by the Division of Insurance will increase by 11.7 percent, according to recent reports, Waters said. The increases could be even higher in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties, she said.

It can be daunting for individuals to research the options that are open to them, she said. She envisioned the forum as an opportunity to streamline information about how to best get coverage for 2016.

"People won't be answering individual problems" at the forum, she said.

That opportunity will come Saturday when a Health Insurance Enrollment Fair will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Eagle County office building adjacent to Crown Mountain Park. Brokers from Martin Insurance Group and five to seven other insurance agencies will be available to help individuals choose a plan, Waters said. Insurance guides from Colorado Connect for Health also will be available to offer assistance.

The bigger goal of Thursday's forum, Waters said, is to give a voice to people in rural Colorado. Donovan helped her organize the event.

"The Affordable Care Act did not do in the high country what it did for the rest of Colorado. While thousands across the state got better health plans at more affordable rates, we continue to see that mountain communities face different challenges," said Donovan, a Vail Democrat who represents Senate District 5, which includes Aspen. "That's why I am working closely with the Basalt Chamber to bring resources to the Roaring Fork Valley and share the stories of what isn't working in the mountains with my congressional partners to find a solution."

Event sponsors so far include Aspen Valley Hospital, Vectra Bank and Martin Insurance Group. Additional sponsors are needed to help defray the event costs, which include a sound system from the middle school Auditorium, Waters said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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