State Rep. Hamner addresses insurance costs in mountain towns at Aspen event | AspenTimes.com

State Rep. Hamner addresses insurance costs in mountain towns at Aspen event

Millie Hamner's fall trip to Aspen wasn't about campaigning or raising funds, instead the state representative for District 61 was able to talk Tuesday night about issues.

Hamner, who is term-limited and will finish serving eight years in December 2018, touched on a number of issues for this year, including the "terrible news" about health care premiums going up on the Colorado exchange.

At a town hall meeting and joined by four of the Pitkin County commissioners, Hamner was challenged by the commissioners to introduce a bill to make all of Colorado one single rating district for health insurance premiums instead of the nine geographic areas it is currently broken into.

The insurance rate for those who buy insurance on their own in the state came out last month and Hamner labeled it "absolutely, devastating terrible news."

"The rates are 34.9 percent higher across the state, but 39 percent higher in the West region," Hamner said. "(The insurers) said for every $1 they take in in premiums, they pay out $1.12 in medical costs (in mountain communities)."

In 2016, Hamner was part of a group who crafted House Bill 1336, which called for a study of a single-rating statewide. According to the report from the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, Area 9, which includes all of Hamner's district, in 2014 had the highest average annual health care cost of $5,532 per member, which was 36 percent more than the lowest in the state ($4,073 in the Boulder area).

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Based on findings in the report, the state's insurance commissioner concluded a single rating "could end up harming the very citizens it is trying to help."

"People in the mountain areas could be facing even higher premiums, or could be left without any insurance options," Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar said at the time of the report. "A move to a single geographic rating area would be an attempt to treat a symptom rather than finding a cure."

As part of her work on a wildfire committee, Hamner said they recently discussed property insurance. When there is a weather event along the Front Range, Hamner said, "all of us pay the costs" for storm damages by increases to home or car insurance even though it doesn't really happen in her district.

"So it doesn't make sense when insurers say it costs more for our western region to cover medical costs. Why aren't those costs, much like hail damage, covered by all of the people in the state?" she said.

Even with the support of Colorado counties groups, Hamner said it will be a "very heavy lift" to go to one geographic rate for the state.

"The largest number of people have the largest number of senators and representatives and the most votes," she said, "and ultimately they will pay more as a result of a change like this."

Going into her final year, the Democrat with a background in education was named to the Education Leadership Council. Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order in June to redesign the council to focus on education from preschool through college.

Hamner returns to the capitol in November to chair the Joint Budget Committee meetings, and the general assembly returns Jan. 10. Only one candidate has announced a run for the seat, Julie McCluskie, who was at Tuesday's event. Candidates have until April 2 to file.

"It's nice that I'm just here talking about the issues," Hamner said before the town hall. "I'm not asking for money. I'm not running for re-election."

dkrause@aspentimes.com

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