Giving Thought: Need health insurance? Mountain Family can help

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought
Tamara Tormohlen
Steve Mundinger

One of the many things the pandemic has illuminated is that affordable health care remains a challenge for many individuals and families in the Aspen-to-Parachute region.

Our region has the most expensive insurance markets in the United States. Prior to the pandemic, only 44% of individuals were covered through employer-sponsored plans. Unfortunately, the resulting shutdown and slow reopening of the economy has led to business closures and layoffs, leaving many of those previously insured people without coverage. And being without access to affordable health care during a global health crisis is not a good thing.

Colorado is one of a few states that has its own official health insurance marketplace under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). The marketplace is called Connect for Health Colorado and it aims to increase access, affordability and choice for individuals and small employers. Connect for Health Colorado helps people enroll for private insurance and apply for financial assistance to pay for it.

Typically, there is one enrollment period each year for people to purchase insurance coverage for the following year. However, the Connect for Health Colorado marketplace offered a special enrollment period in late March for those who were recently uninsured and did not qualify for Medicaid. The regular enrollment period — called “open enrollment” — started in November and is going on through Jan. 15. After that date, the only way a person can purchase insurance for 2021 through the marketplace is if there is a “life-changing” event that causes them to lose coverage.

Mountain Family Health Centers is the only certified Connect for Health broker in our region that also provides medical, behavioral and dental care. Silvia Santana, outreach and enrollment manager for Mountain Family, coordinates a team of enrollment technicians who help people find the right health insurance coverage.

“The open enrollment period is when people can shop for an insurance plan that works for them,” Santana said.

Connect for Health Colorado has a variety of insurance plans to meet your needs and your budget. In addition to signing up for a plan, you can apply for financial aid to help reduce the cost of your monthly premiums. Financial help is available to single adults making as much as $49,000 per year and families of four making as much as about $103,000 per year.

When someone calls one of the enrollment technicians at Mountain Family, one of the first questions they will ask is: How much income do you think you’ll make in 2021? This is a question that, even in more stable economic years, is often challenging for people to answer.

“We hear it all the time,” Santana said, “‘how can anyone really know what they are making next year?’ Those who are not sure if or when their jobs will come back, seasonal workers, all struggle with this question.”

Santana’s team helps them through the whole process, from determining their anticipated income to choosing the right plan to figuring out how to pay for it. And it’s OK, she says, if what they thought they would earn changes during their coverage period.

“If they declare one amount and if at any point it’s different, we’ll help them report those changes to the marketplace,” Santana said.

The economic uncertainty unleashed by the pandemic has forced people to focus on more pressing issues: keeping themselves and their families fed and housed. Losing health insurance at first seems like one of those things that is a nice to have, not a need to have. The fact is people who do not have health insurance tend to delay care for fear of the financial burden. With all the options available for health insurance through Connect for Health Colorado, Medicaid and other programs, one should not have to risk being one medical emergency away from financial disaster.

“There are a lot of people who think they don’t qualify,” Santana said. “You don’t know if you don’t ask. We’re here to help and not just for our patients. Call us and we’ll walk you through it.”

To reach Mountain Family Health Center’s enrollment technicians, call 1-833-273-6627 or email

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.