By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
People living in resort areas of Colorado will have to pay higher health insurance rates than those in other regions when plans start being sold through the state’s health exchange on Oct. 1.
An average 40-year-old non-smoker living in a resort area who is buying a mid-level “silver” plan could be charged a base rate as high as $667 per month compared to the least expensive silver plan for a comparable 40-year-old in Greeley, whose base rate would be about $232 per month. Shoppers will also be able to choose from lower level “bronze” plans and “gold” and “platinum” plans that will cover more. But, insurance companies aren’t even offering the platinum plans in resort areas.
The base rates don’t tell the whole story. Many new buyers of health insurance will pay less than the base rates because they’ll qualify for federal tax rebates designed to make insurance more affordable. (Click here to see a chart showing base rates for various level plans throughout Colorado.)
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Rates in Grand Junction, Boulder and Fort Collins are also higher than in some other parts of the state like Denver and Colorado Springs.
Colorado’s Division of Insurance on Friday released information on approved plans.
Altogether, Colorado’s Division of Insurance approved 242 plans from 13 carriers to be sold on the state’s health exchange, Connect for Health Colorado. Insurance regulators approved an additional 299 plans that will be sold outside of the state’s health exchange.
Consumer advocates say the prices appear to be affordable and that people should be able to find what they need.
“The myth of rate shock continues to be just that — a myth,” said Adam Fox, director of strategic engagement of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, a consumer advocacy group.
Fox’s group has been tracking proposed rates and found that the final approved rates are the same or slightly lower than those first proposed.
“We’re pleased with the number of plans and the variety of carriers offering plans. It will make for a robust marketplace here in Colorado,” Fox said.
- All Savers: 9 individual plans
- Cigna: 11 individual plans
- Colorado Choice: 12 individual, 10 small group plans
- Colorado Health Insurance Cooperative: 8 individual, 6 group plans
- Denver Health Medical Plan: 4 individual plans
- HMO Colorado Inc. (Anthem): 14 individual plans, 3 group plans
- Humana Health Plan: 7 individual plans
- Kaiser Foundation Health Plan: 27 individual plans, 24 group plans
- New Health Ventures: 6 individual plans
- Rocky Mountain Hospital and Medical Services (Anthem): 2 group plans
- Rocky Mountain HMO: 52 individual plans, 30 group plans
- Rocky Mountain Healthcare Options Inc.: 14 group plans
- SeeChange Health Insurance: 3 group plans
Source: Colorado Division of Insurance
Elsewhere in the country, once insurance companies saw proposed rates from competitors some asked for “do-overs” to lower their rates. Here in Colorado, insurance regulators did not allow full revision of rates, but if the math was wrong, carriers and regulators worked together to revise them. Fox said his group noticed that the price of several plans came down slightly. In one case, the price for a catastrophic health plan declined by 30 percent.
In addition, a handful of carriers who wanted to sell in Colorado voluntarily withdrew their bids when the plans didn’t meet requirements or had errors in them, like trying to charge more for preexisting conditions, which is now illegal under the Affordable Care Act, said Vincent Plymell, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Insurance.
He said it’s important not to compare the new plans to old ones because the new ones are required to provide significantly more coverage than existing plans.
“These are completely different,” Plymell said, adding, “we’re pleased with the number of plans and the number of carriers. It’s going to be good competition and provide good choice for the consumer.
“I know we’re in better shape than some states that might have only had one or two carriers…We’re pleased that we have all the big carriers,” he said.
Both Plymell and consumer advocates say it’s too early for consumers to make up their minds or to fully immerse themselves in the process of finding new insurance.
“People shouldn’t get too focused on trying to make decisions now,” Plymell said. “They can think about options now. Once (plans) are available for sale come Oct. 1, people will realize they have options.”
Like Colorado’s health exchange, the Division of Insurance also will be reaching out to consumers to help them understand their options.
“We’re going to spend the next couple of months trying to educate people about health care reform,” Plymell said.
He acknowledges that “insurance isn’t sexy,” but is hoping that people attending events like Colorado’s Home and Garden show might be willing to stop by a booth to learn a little about how health insurance and the exchange will work before they’re in the hot seat and have to buy.
“We’d rather people ask questions on the front end,” Plymell said. “We want them to at least have their eyes wide open when they go in.”