Health care provider having problems in rural Colorado

DENVER (AP) United Healthcare is the latest health care provider to say it is losing too much money in rural areas.

Reeling from a $12-million loss last year, and multimillion losses the previous two years, it is studying whether it can continue to operate in rural Colorado without fundamental changes in state insurance regulations.

It says that it will have to raise rates 25 percent or more to return to profitability.

Chief Executive Officer Victor Lazzaro said United Healthcare wants to continue providing insurance coverage statewide and to small-group employers. But executives are struggling to find ways to do business in what they say is a stifling regulatory environment.

''We're in discussions with the Department of Insurance about what actions might be appropriate,'' said Lazzaro, following a recent meeting with Commissioner of Insurance Bill Kirven. ''I expressed my concerns regarding Senate Bill 30 and my great disappointment that the legislature has not taken action.''

Several insurance carriers that operate in the state have notified the Division of Insurance of their problems thriving in small-group and rural markets unless insurance regulations are changed.

Humana-Employers Health, the state's largest small-group insurer, said this week it plans to quit offering preferred provider organization health insurance in 24 mostly rural Colorado counties. The state's regulations make it increasingly difficult for Humana to negotiate agreements with hospitals and physicians, said Tod Zacharias, vice president of Humana's small-group division.

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