During Aspen visit, Polis high on making insurance rates lower | AspenTimes.com

During Aspen visit, Polis high on making insurance rates lower

Aspen Institute’s Kitty Boone, left, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, center left, and Oregon Governor Kate Brown, right, listens as Colorado Governor Jared Polis addresses the crowd at the Democratic Governors Panel in Paepcke Auditorium in Aspen on Friday, September 6, 2019. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Western Slope residents on the individual market will see their insurance premiums drop by nearly 30% come Jan. 1, which is another example of why Colorado’s health care initiatives are working, according to Gov. Jared Polis.

Speaking publicly in Aspen on Friday, Polis shared the stage at Paepcke Auditorium with fellow Democratic Govs. Kate Brown of Oregon and Michelle Grisham of New Mexico, touting his early work in office that has included providing free kindergarten at public schools and rolling out initiatives to make health care more affordable for Coloradoans.

“Rather than being part of this national debate,” the first-term governor said, “which is sometimes frustrating to watch, where people are swaying back and forth and saying, ‘Is it single-payer (health care), is it five payers, is it Medicaid, is it Medicare for all?’ We’re just saying, ‘Look, we have this landscape and we can do a lot more with it in our state to save people money on health care.”

To that end, Polis started the Office of Saving People Money on Health Care, which is overseen by Lt. Gov Dianne Primavera.

So far, the office has lived up to its name, he said.

“Western Colorado is particularly transformative,” he said. “Here in Pitkin County and across western Colorado, with our reinsurance package that we were able to get into law — Oregon has a similar one — rates are quite literally coming down here in the individual market by about 30 percent Jan. 1.”

Using some $260 million in state and federal money, the reinsurance program will help fund the costs for people in the individual market with the most expensive medical bills. As a result, insurance providers are lowering their premiums.

The cost reduction would help reverse a trend where customers on the individual market, as recently as last year, had seen their annualized premiums skyrocket by some 72% in three years, according to the state’s insurance division. The individual market is comprised of buyers who don’t get insurance through their employer or relatives, and don’t have Medicare or Medicaid.

The lowered costs not only mean folks on the individual market will see a nearly one-third drop in their premiums, but it will enable those who are currently uninsured to be covered in the future, Polis said.

“It also opens up the ability to be insured to people who simply can’t afford it at its current cost,” he said. “So by costing about a third less, it allows a lot more people to access health care insurance on the exchange, the individual market, which is the most price sensitive part of the market.”

Another idea Polis is working on is inspired by Summit County’s Peak Health Alliance, a consortium of some of the county’s largest employers working with providers to lower rates next year. That initiative has the potential to realize savings of another 15% for Coloradoans, he said.

Polis is scheduled to be in Keystone, Summit County, on Monday to announce the 2020 plans and premiums for the Peak Health Alliance.

“A lot of our (plans) going forward are also targeting saving employers money, in the employer market and the small-group market,” he said. “We’re modeling that after an effort that’s going on in Summit County, in January, which is the alliance model, and there is similar work on the ground in Eagle and Pitkin and La Plata counties, and we’re looking at the statewide alliance model. This effectively allows for a negotiation with providers across different insurers, for customers who need leverage. So if we’re able to negotiate in Summit County in the small-group market, the individual market, it will be the large-group market soon.”

Brown of Oregon said state leaders bear the responsibility to make health care more affordable.

“One of the areas where governors can play a key role is making sure we are taking a leadership role in fighting the current administration,” she said, referring to President Donald Trump’s effort to roll back the Affordable Care Act that was passed under the Obama administration.

Oregon also passed a health care package that covers every child in the state “regardless of their immigration status,” she said. “And we are at 100 percent coverage for our children now.”

She also touted the state’s Women’s Reproductive Health Equity Act, which she said “ensures every woman in the great state of Oregon will have full access to the full complement of reproductive health services, regardless of her income, regardless of her ZIP code, and regardless of her immigration status.”

Grisham said New Mexico embedded Affordable Care Act protections into state law and is eyeing ways to reduce pharmaceutical costs and create universal health care.

“I am thrilled that primarily Democratic governors, but not entirely, are really focused on making a difference for their citizens in health care,” she said, noting more than 50% of New Mexico’s residents are on Medicaid.

The discussion was part of The Aspen Institute’s Hurst Lecture Series. The institute’s Kitty Boone, who runs the thinktank’s public programs and is executive director of the Aspen Ideas Festival, moderated the discussion.