Health guides at 55 sites receive $17 million for outreach

By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon

Fifty-five community groups and hospitals throughout Colorado have received $17 million in grants from Colorados health exchange to assist people in signing up for health insurance.

Altogether 74 applicants had asked for more than $57 million, so the grant committee had to dramatically cut requested funds and some of the proposed assistance sites have backed out.

Some of them are seriously weighing what they can do. We have had a couple of groups that have pulled out. We do have a few groups that are very much on the fence, said Adela Flores-Brennan, assistance network manager.

Many had made large requests for marketing, advertising and other outreach efforts that the exchange may already be doing statewide.

They are scaling back in several areas, Flores-Brennan said during an exchange board meeting Monday. There are going to be some staffing reductions to a lot of these organizations. There will be scope reductions.

The largest grants went to: (Click here for full list.)

Aurora Comprehensive Mental Health Center: $500,000
Centura, the largest hospital system in the state run by the Catholic Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System: $400,000.
Denver Health and Hospitals: $500,000
Eagle County Health and Human Services: $750,000
Family Resource Center Association: $816,109
Health District of Northern Larimer County: $650,000
Hilltop Community Resources: $750,000
Jefferson County Human Resources: $600,000
North Colorado Health Alliance: $685,700
Peak Vista Community Health Centers: $500,000
Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments: $500,000
Servicios de la Raza: $600,000

Others who received funding include community groups that serve refugees, seniors, small businesses, people with AIDS, women, homeless people, Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos and immigrants.

A committee tried to select locally trusted groups spread around the state that serve diverse populations.

During Mondays board meeting, Colorado Insurance Commissioner Jim Riesberg also unveiled the latest information from his department about rates for new policies that will be sold through the exchange, now called Connect for Health Colorado. (Click here to see a summary of rates. Click here to see summary of health carriers.)

Riesbergs analysts are reviewing rates and he said some companies will need to revise their proposals. For instance, Riesberg said that under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer charge older people more than three times as much as they charge the youngest person on a plan.

Exchange board members got their first look at a test site. Building the technology for the exchange has been challenging. It is slated to open for business on Oct. 1.

Currently, many companies have 5-to-1 and 7-to-1 ratios, Riesberg said.

Altogether in May, Riesberg said 17 companies filed 859 new plans to be offered both through the exchange and outside of it for both individuals and small businesses.

The plans range from catastrophic plans aimed at 20-somethings to platinum-level plans that cover the highest percentage of health care costs.

Riesberg said theres a wide span in prices. For instance, for bronze plans that cover about 60 percent of health costs, an individual could be charged as little as $177 per month and as much as $462.

Thats a pretty big difference, Riesberg said.

He said his analysts may find that the least expensive plans are priced too low to cover all the health costs or that the most expensive are too pricey. The Division of Insurance must certify all plans by July 31.

The goal now is to get through all of those (plans that have been submitted.) They all have to be examined, Riesberg said.

He urged people not to read too much into rates they are seeing now both because they are not final and because no one will be able to calculate how much tax rebates could lower their out-of-pocket expenses until Oct. 1 when the exchange is slated to open for business.

Along with hearing about assistance sites and rates, board members for the first time got a glimpse at how the Connect for Health website will look and they saw some very basic functions. (The data pictured above are not real and Aetna wont be selling health plans in Colorado.)

Potential customers will be able to get estimates and compare up to three plans at a time. They will be able to check rates anonymously before signing in to complete the formal application process. Solutions has reported extensively on technology challenges that exchange managers face as they sprint toward the planned Oct. 1 launch. But Fontneau and board members expressed optimism after seeing the beta site for the first time.

We are using the actual test site, so its going through some permutations to be able to view it today, Fontneau said. People have asked us so much we wanted to show you the functionality is there and its working.