Getting local residents covered

Local chamber puts together insurance policies available to Moffat County workers

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The Craig Chamber of Commerce is ready to go to the public with a health insurance plan its executive director has been working on for nearly four years in an effort to provide some relief to the high premiums that result in a low number of insured Moffat County residents.

The collection of policies were finalized Wednesday and are ready to be offered to businesses.

Businesses do not have to be members of the chamber to be eligible for the insurance.

The policy, offered through National Benefits Partners Inc., does not offer group coverage but does include several choices of individual policies at lower rates than most other plans available to Northwest Colorado residents. Coverage is available for those who are self-employed and their employees but, according to state law, business owners cannot pay to have their employees covered.

Options include a choice of a popular daily deductible plan, a medical savings plan, a health savings plan and a PPO co-pay plan that includes several coverage options.

The company's preferred provider network is one of the largest in the nation and includes most Craig and Steamboat doctors.

All plans are available with a prescription drug card.

The benefit, said insurance agent Steve Blossom, is in the lower premiums.

"In terms of lower deductibles, these are generally the cheapest plans on the street," he said. "There's a lot of flexibility."

Although the company's standards for covering pre-existing conditions resemble other plans, Blossom said they are a little more liberal and, in some cases, people can still get coverage by paying a higher rate.

Independent insurance agent Kyle Revelle with Moffat Insurance is handling the policies locally and interested business owners and their employees are urged to call him for details.

"With the five different plans, people really need to sit down and talk to Kyle about the details," Blossom said.

This Chamber Benefit Plans program offered through National Benefits is a prototype and, if it works well, National Benefits will offer it nationally.

Another benefit, Blossom said, is that the company is new enough so that annual premium hikes aren't expected for several years.

"Chances are it's going to be cheaper than what you can walk in and get on the street," said Cathy Vanatta, the chamber's executive director, said.

She said it may get more people insured than are currently, but the plan isn't a fix-all for the insurance crisis Colorado residents are facing.

"It's not perfect, but it's the best we've got," she said. "To have actual coverage, it's one of the best things I've seen in the four years I've been working on it."

The chamber offered a similar plan several years ago but was dropped when the insurance carrier pulled out of state, a problem many Western Slope businesses are facing now that there are only three carriers on this side of the state.

The challenge is similar statewide, in which 12 carriers remain where more than 80 used to operate.

"We're looking for some coverage for the small-group market -- businesses with one to 49 employees," Revelle said. "That's the tough market right now, we just don't have the companies that will write those policies."

Studies show 70 percent of small businesses in Colorado experienced rate hikes of 20 percent or more on their health insurance this year and premiums are expected to rise 15 percent annually causing 82,000 people to leave the small-group market in 2003.

It is estimated that nearly 50 percent of Coloradans are without coverage.

Fifteen percent of rising health care costs is attributed to government mandates and regulation. Lt. Gov. Jane Norton said that is the portion the Legislature can fix in its attempt to control costs.

For more information on the program, contact the Craig Chamber of Commerce at 824-5689 or Agent Kyle Revelle at 824-9406.

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