Roaring Fork Valley legislators hopeful for insurance relief for constituents

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

If a study shows that it would be feasible for Colorado to create a single geographic area to determine health insurance premium rates, the Roaring Fork Valley’s two state representatives said they will fight to make it happen.

Reps. Millie Hamner, who represents House District 61, which includes Pitkin County, and Diane Mitsch Bush, whose House District 26 includes Eagle County, said they are eagerly awaiting the results of the study.

Hamner and State Sen. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) sponsored a bill last legislative session to study the Colorado-wide single-rating area. It passed both chambers and was signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. It requires the study to be completed by Aug. 1, so the Legislature can theoretically take action next session.

Mitsch Bush (D-Steamboat Springs) said the Colorado Insurance Commissioner would have to approve the single-rating area. Hamner (D-Dillon) said legislative action would be needed for the commissioner to make that determination.

Some Front Range interests are critical of the concept of a single-rating area for all of Colorado. The resort region, which includes Aspen and Vail, pay some of the highest premiums in the country, according to independent studies. There is concern in some quarters, Hamner said, that insurance premium rates would rise in some parts of the state if all areas were lumped together. Some areas, she said, would pay higher rates, but the resort region might no longer pay astronomical rates.

She said testimony for the bill authorizing the study showed mountain residents need relief from insurance costs substantially higher than those elsewhere in Colorado.

“Some of the testimony that we heard from constituents was really troubling,” she said.

The legislators addressed a crowd of about 12 constituents Friday afternoon at Basalt Regional Library.

Chris Council, a freelance photographer in Aspen, wrote in an op-ed piece this week that Pitkin County residents who are paying their own insurance premiums are facing an “unspoken crisis related to astronomical health insurance premiums.”

He said his monthly insurance premium has doubled over the past three years and his deductible has more than doubled. Severe increases in premiums are expected next year, he noted.

UnitedHealthcare and Humana have said they will pull out of Colorado next year, exacerbating the problem.

Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman asked the legislators if establishing one geographic rating area for Colorado would mean more providers for the state’s residents.

Mitsch Bush said she gets lobbied to get tough on insurance companies and “hold their feet to the fire” to make them cover the entire state.

“That should be one of the goals,” she said.

However, she also noted mandating coverage might not be possible and that she definitely couldn’t make a promise.