Colorado’s health insurance market posts strong numbers despite soaring premiums, political headwinds | AspenTimes.com

Colorado’s health insurance market posts strong numbers despite soaring premiums, political headwinds

Jack Queen
Summit Daily

St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco. Health insurance premiums are soaring in Colorado, but so far the state insurance marketplace is posting strong numbers.

Colorado's health insurance marketplace posted strong numbers in its first two weeks of open enrollment, a sign that the state's market remains stable despite soaring premiums and political headwinds.

More than 22,000 enrolled in plans from Nov. 1 to Nov. 15, a 33 percent increase over last year's total during the same period, Connect for Health Colorado reported. Fourteen percent of those people were first-time customers, and the remaining 86 percent renewed plans, the state's Affordable Care Act insurance marketplace reported.

"With all the uncertainty this year, we projected things to stay flat," said Luke Clarke, a Connect for Health spokesman. "These figures just reflect two weeks total, and it's how you finish the game that really matters. But it looks good for a start."

The marketplace got a jolt in October when the Trump administration announced it would stop reimbursing insurance companies for price cuts given to low-income policyholders under the ACA. Colorado providers adjusted their premiums upward by an average of 6 percent in response, bringing the total increases this year to 33 percent.

While the administration's move prompted some hand wringing by insurance companies and state regulators, it's a financial boon for people who qualify for premium subsidies — but a big hit for people who don't.

People earning 400 percent of the poverty level or less — an annual income of $48,240 for an individual and $98,400 for a family of four — qualify for subsidies that are tied to average premium costs. Since those are going up, the subsidies are, too.

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Even though they will no longer be reimbursed for them, insurance companies are still required to reduce costs for low-income people. And unlike the reimbursements, the tax credits for individuals can't be undone by executive fiat.

"We're trying to overcome the confusion over the financial help that's available," Clarke said. "It's all still there. The White House cut payments to health insurance companies that reimburse those companies … but that benefit is still there for the individuals, and that's confusing to people."

This year, Coloradans who qualify for the subsidies will see an average 20 percent reduction in their premiums after taxes. Those who don't, however, will bear the full brunt of the 33 percent average premium hike. About one-third of Connect for Health's customers fall into the latter category, Clarke said.

"Everybody's affected," he said. "But I think it's fair to say the effect is more powerful on people who do not have the cushion of the tax credit."

This year, the tax credit for the average household in Summit County was $354 per month, slightly lower than the state average of $369 per month.

Connect for Health hasn't broken down the current enrollment numbers by region yet. But last year, Summit was one of 12 counties that saw more than a 10 percent increase in plan selections. There were 1,958 plan selections for 2016 coverage in Summit, compared with 2,245 for 2017.

Three health insurance companies are currently covering Summit County, offering a total of 37 different individual plans for next year's coverage. That's down slightly from this year, when 41 plans were available.

Colorado as a whole avoided losing a large number of insurers this year, even after the Trump administration announced the end of reimbursements. Part of that is because state regulators allowed companies to submit alternative rate plans that accounted ahead of time for the end of those payments.

"We had the same number of health insurance companies and they didn't do a lot of changing to their service areas," Clarke said. "It's a vote of confidence, and also a credit the Division of Insurance. We worked with them to have a contingency plan in place so that if and when they cost share reductions got canceled, the health insurance companies were allowed to raise their rates, as well."

Open enrollment will continue until Jan. 12, but the deadline to enroll in coverage that begins Jan. 1 is Dec. 15.

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