New regional boundaries affect Colorado health insurance premiums | CraigDailyPress.com

New regional boundaries affect Colorado health insurance premiums

— A newly redrawn state health insurance map will alter 2015 premium amounts for Coloradans, with premiums slightly up across the state but down overall in Western Colorado.

While the Colorado Division of Insurance boasts that premium rates will fall 7.44 percent across the state-defined western region in 2015, the number is misleading, as the West area now has absorbed the resort-town counties of Pitkin, Garfield, Eagle and Summit, which had the highest premium rates in the country in 2014.

An initial analysis of the rate differences between 2014 and 2015 was released in late September by the Colorado Division of Insurance, though it doesn’t reveal averages by county.

A three-month open enrollment period begins Nov. 15 in Colorado, and the redrawn map, along with increased competition among providers and insurance companies, means consumers carefully should study options when they select a plan, according to Erin Gleason, community health insurance coordinator for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

"The best idea for people is to shop around this year," said Gleason, who warned that once a plan is selected, consumers are committed to it for the year.

"If people don’t shop around and they pay that January premium, they’re locked into it for a full year," Gleason said.

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The new Division of Insurance map has unclear impacts on Routt County thus far.

Despite the resort community of Steamboat Springs, the coverage map for 2014 put Routt County into the rural West area, leaving premiums lower than in the nearby resort area but still higher than most areas in the Front Range.

Because premiums were so high in the resort area, mostly due to fewer options and fewer competition among providers and insurance carriers, the state redrew the boundaries this year, aiming to lower resort area premiums by placing the insured into a larger risk pool.

When 2014 resort and West areas are averaged and compared to the new West coverage area, the premium rates have fallen 7.44 percent over last year, according to the Colorado Division of Insurance.

But when comparing only the West from 2014 to the new West, the change is unclear.

According to premium information from the Department of Insurance, the lowest identified silver-level health insurance premium cost for a 40-year-old in 2014 was $322 in the West, versus a low of $446 in the resort area for the same plan.

In 2015, the same plan in the new West will have a premium as low as $358, which falls between previous year lows for resort and West areas, while other available silver-level plans will have premiums as low as $249 in 2015.

A representative from the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies said that the analysis released last month was preliminary and that a breakdown by county with average price increases and decreases should be released later this month.

"For our initial release, the division kept our analysis of rates at a high level to give a broad overview of state and regional trends," said Natalie Horbatko, executive assistant to Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar.

Gleason said that premiums likely will go up in Routt County, but it isn’t possible to reach that conclusion from only the information released by the Department of Insurance.

"With tax credits, even if rates are going up, you might be paying less," Gleason said.

The VNA will hold weekly health insurance enrollment help sessions during this year’s open enrollment period in partnership with the Yampa Valley Medical Center. Consumers can bring their own computer or use one provided, and they can ask for help as they navigate the Connect for Health Colorado insurance marketplace.

Gleason encourages everyone to consider seeking input before locking themselves into an insurance plan. She recently helped a family reassess their insurance plan, lowering their monthly premium from $1,100 per month to just $79 per month, with the help of tax credits.

"It can be dramatic," Gleason said. "And it can really be a lot of help."

The help sessions will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays beginning Nov. 18 at the Yampa Valley Medical Center.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow