Health care costs spike on Western Slope

Despite enrollment gains, rates rise across Colorado

By Peter Marcus Herald staff writer

DENVER – Health coverage saw gains in Colorado during the first two weeks of open enrollment, while the state still faces difficult cost challenges.

During the enrollment period, which began on Nov. 1, 13,414 people enrolled in private health care coverage through Connect for Health, the state’s insurance marketplace. That compares to 9,606 enrollments during the comparable period last year. The coverage gains include 7,394 in Medicaid and 261 in Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+).

“We are very pleased with the number of initial sign-ups during the first two weeks of open enrollment,” said Kevin Patterson, chief executive of Connect for Health Colorado. “But I want to urge everyone to not put off their 2016 health-insurance coverage.”

The enrollment period follows last month’s release of insurance rates for 2016, approved by the Colorado Division of Insurance. Rates are up by 26 percent on the individual market along the rural Western Slope. The state’s average price increase is 7 percent compared with a 1.2 percent hike in 2015.

“The substantial 2016 increases make it clear that insurance rates are on a roller coaster as carriers struggle to adapt to market reforms brought about by the Affordable Care Act,” explained the Colorado Health institute in an analysis of the changes.

The think tank believes that rates will stabilize as carriers get more experience with covering the newly insured.

Throwing rates even more into flux was news last month that the Colorado HealthOP cooperative – which was created to drive competition, lower prices and cover the uninsured and underinsured – would go out of business in 2016 because of a lack of funding.

About 82,785 members found themselves scrambling to find new coverage.

The Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care last week delivered its first annual report to state lawmakers and the governor’s office on the health care landscape in Colorado.

“Despite the progress Colorado and our nation have made improving the accessibility and quality of health care, we still face daunting challenges due to the rising cost of health care,” said Bill Lindsay, chairman of the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care.

Critics of the Affordable Care Act say the increases are proof that the reforms are not working.

“This chaos and these rising costs are exactly what the people of Colorado were promised Obamacare would prevent,” said Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican. “The myth of Obamacare’s cost controls has been dispelled.”