Closure of Colorado HealthOp affects hundreds in Roaring Fork Valley | AspenTimes.com

Closure of Colorado HealthOp affects hundreds in Roaring Fork Valley

A Basalt woman is trying to organize a forum to help people who recently lost health care coverage explore their options for affordable insurance.

Robin Waters was one of more than 80,000 people who learned earlier this month that they would lose their coverage Jan. 1 because of the state closure of Colorado HealthOP, a nonprofit insurer established after the creation of Obamacare. She said she signed up with Colorado HealthOP a year ago because health-insurance rates through the cooperative "are so significantly lower" than other plans.

Waters, who is CEO of the Basalt Chamber of Commerce, posted comments on the Basalt Community Facebook page expressing concern about the move and seeking suggestions for alternative coverage. The post created a "mini-firestorm," she said. Numerous other people wrote about similar situations.

"People are confused about, one, what's happening and, two, what their options are," Waters said. "This is coming very late in the year."

The closure of Colorado HealthOP will affect an estimated 7,000 policyholders in Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield and Summit counties, according to authorities. They have to find new coverage beginning Jan. 1. They must get signed up with a new carrier by mid-December.

Sterling Insurance of Aspen and its parent company, Glenwood Insurance, have about 400 clients affected by the closure, according to insurance agent Gwyn Sterling.

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Waters said a different midvalley insurance agency that she works with said it had 500 clients affected by the closure of Colorado HealthOP.

With so many people affected, she figured it makes sense to hold a forum rather than have everyone individually consult with their insurance agents. She is trying to organize the midvalley Community Insurance and Health Forum. She has contacted the offices of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet to send representatives. She also contacted former State Sen. Gail Schwartz, who lived in Snowmass Village during her time in office and championed rural health care issues. Waters said Schwartz offered good suggestions.

Nothing solid is planned yet with the forum, but Waters aims to get something arranged as close to Nov. 1 as possible because that is when open enrollment begins with insurance carriers.

Waters said being forced to search for new insurance is frustrating because it is so time consuming to find comparable coverage to what she had. She also expects Colorado HealthOP clients will take a financial hit with their new coverage.

"They're going to have sticker shock," she said.

Sterling concurred. Everyone will likely pay more for new insurance unless they qualify for advanced tax credits, she said.

It isn't just customers of Colorado HealthOP who are scrambling to find new coverage. Tina Turner of Basalt said she and her husband, both self-employed, were recently informed that Rocky Mountain Health Plan was cancelling the plan they have. A year prior, they were with a different insurer.

"It just seems like we have to get new insurance every year," she said.

Similar to Waters, she said it is frustrating and time consuming to do the research and try to find coverage that is apples to apples with her existing coverage. She said she will work with Connect for Health Colorado to find coverage. Connect for Health Colorado is a nonprofit entity that was created to help individuals, families and small employers in the state purchase health insurance and, in some cases, apply for federal assistance to reduce costs.

Whatever alternative solution she finds, she is quite certain of the outcome.

"It's bound to be more expensive," she said.

Waters is advising people who are interested in the Community Insurance and Health Forum to check regularly on the Basalt Community page on Facebook for updates.

scondon@aspentimes.com