Health insurance reform drives up premiums in Aspen, elsewhere |

Health insurance reform drives up premiums in Aspen, elsewhere

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” As the second part of a law reforming state health insurance takes effect this month, some Aspenites with group health plans could see their premiums rise by as much as 25 percent. The bump is in addition to regular annual increases.

“We have seen rate increases as high as 60-plus percent on some groups,” said Mark Devlin, owner of Aspen-based Devlin Financial Services.

This January, 15 new state laws took effect, including one that requires auto insurance companies to offer $5,000 of medical insurance per vehicle, one that raises the qualifying income level for state-sponsored children’s health insurance, and one that requires all pets released from animal shelters to be spayed or neutered.

But the one that could hit pocketbooks the most involves a change in the rules for issuing health insurance premiums for groups of 50 or fewer employees.

Prior to the passage of House Bill 1355, insurance companies had the option of lowering the premium for a relatively healthy group by up to 25 percent, and raising the premium for a less-healthy group by up to 10 percent, Devlin explained.

But state lawmakers worried that the policy was discriminatory, he said.

So in 2007, they passed House Bill 1355, banning the practice. By January 2008, insurance companies were required to cease the practice of charging less-healthy groups more, and by January 2009, companies had to cease the practice of charging healthier groups less.

But health insurance agents argue that the new law has driven up costs for many consumers.

“That flexibility gave insurance companies the ability to target better rates, and now they don’t have that flexibility anymore. That’s one of the reasons we’re seeing these incredible rate increases,” Devlin said.

But Marc G. Riddick, benefits manager for Aspen-based Neil-Garing Insurance, noted that some consumers in small-group health insurance plans won’t actually pay the increase until next year. That’s because many insurance agents encouraged their clients to renew plans early ” in December ” so they could lock in their discount for another year.

Aspenites will also see a change in their auto insurance this January. Starting in 2009, all auto insurance companies are required to offer $5,000 of medical insurance per vehicle, according to Neil Ross, an Aspen-based insurance broker with American Family Insurance. Consumers, who will receive notice of the option with their renewal, have the opportunity to accept or reject the coverage, Ross said.

Advantages of the coverage include the fact that auto insurance companies have historically processed medical bills faster than medical insurance companies do, Ross said. Also, the policy covers all occupants of the vehicle, not just the driver.

On the negative side, depending on one’s medical insurance, the coverage could be a slight duplication, he said.

A new law that raises the income at which children are eligible for state-funded health insurance will have a “very small impact” in Aspen, according to Pitkin County Youth and Family Services manager Kim Hilderbrand.

“It will add a few more families to the pie,” said Mitzi Ledingham, the deputy director of Pitkin County Human Services.

Both Hilderbrand and Ledingham encouraged any families who think they may qualify for state-funded health insurance to consult with a public assistance technician at Health and Human Services. Even if the family does not qualify for state-funded health insurance, it might qualify for other assistance, they said. Hilderbrand also pointed out that 2009 marks the start of a $20,000 county emergency assistance fund.

A new law that requires pets released from animal shelters in Colorado to be spayed or neutered before adoption will have no effect at the Aspen-Pitkin County Animal Shelter, according to director Seth Sachson.

The shelter already neuters and vaccinates all pets before adoption. It also outfits them with internal microchips ” all for a cost of $95 to the adoptive parent.

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