Steamboat Springs Before Tuesday morning, Lynn Abbott said her quest to find her daughter's family a better health insurance plan was daunting.
From her home in Steamboat Springs, it was difficult for Abbott to make the slew of phone calls she needed to make to understand all the plans that are available for a family that lives in nearby Eagle County.
Lots of questions went unanswered.
By the numbers
Percentage of people who are uninsured, by county:
■ Routt (Hayden, Oak Creek, Steamboat Springs): 19.4 percent
■ Chaffee (Buena Vista, Salida): 21.6 percent
■ Garfield (Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Rifle): 24.5 percent
■ La Plata (Durango): 25 percent
■ Grand (Granby, Winter Park): 25.8 percent
■ Eagle (Avon, Eagle, Gypsm): 26 percent
■ Summit (Breckenridge/Silverthorne): 26.6 percent
■ Gunnison (Gunnison/Crested Butte): 28.1 percent
■ San Miguel (Telluride): 30.5 percent
But the search changed last week with something as simple as the launch of a new website.
Abbott was one of the thousands of Coloradans who woke up on Tuesday and eagerly hopped on www.connectforhealthco.com, the hub for the state's new health insurance exchange.
She braved the reports of technical glitches and server errors.
She had been waiting for this day for a long time.
Now, she can browse plans and see them all side by side from a personal computer.
It could help change her daughter's life.
Abbott said her daughter and her husband are self-employed and only have been able to afford a catastrophic health insurance plan with a very high deductible, which doesn't offer much piece of mind for a mother.
Abbott's hopeful a better, more affordable plan is somewhere on the insurance exchange.
“I think this is going to be a huge help,” Abbott said.
Her initial research shows the family could get an insurance plan from the exchange that will completely pay for such things as wellness visits and dental and eye exams for her daughter's two kids.
“If the rates are good enough for a family of four, it's not fulfilling its promise,” she said of the Affordable Care Act. “But I think it will be.”
Years in the making
Colorado's new health insurance exchange is the result of the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.
The exchange allows small businesses with less than 50 employees and people who are uninsured, self-insured and self-employed to shop for and compare health insurance plans online.
Individuals also can apply for tax credits.
According to a news release from Connect for Health Colorado, 107,000 unique visitors logged onto the website during its first two days of operation Oct. 1 and 2. A total of 8,400 accounts were created, and there were 6,400 calls and online chats recorded with customer service center representatives.
What's the goal of the new system?
In it's simplest form, the law and the health care exchange are about getting the uninsured affordable health insurance.
Whether it will do that still is up for debate, and it's the subject of intense political discussions.
What is known is that in Routt County, nearly a quarter of adults are uninsured or underinsured, according to the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurses Association.
The population of residents who lack any form of health insurance is estimated to be about 19 percent, based on U.S. Census Data.
That's lower than many other counties in the state that host ski resorts.
But in the first days of the health exchange here, it was evident the new website and the Affordable Care Act are poised to change the lives of many.
Nancy Mayer, the thrift store manager at LIFT-UP of Routt County, browsed the exchange on Friday afternoon and was hopeful she would find a plan that will be affordable and will no longer deny her coverage because of a preexisting condition.
The site does not ask about a person's medical history other than asking if a woman is pregnant, and instead, determines the cost of plans based on age, income, family makeup and whether a person smokes or not.
Another woman with multiple medical conditions and without insurance walked into LIFT-UP the day before and realized she likely is one of the 1,118 residents in Routt County the VNA estimates will be newly eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
About 1,000 of those people are adults who don't have any dependent children and earn an annual income of less than $15,856.
In the wake of these changes, Erin Gleason has been getting a lot more phone calls recently.
Ready to help
It was a quiet day at LIFT-UP's food bank Wednesday afternoon.
Gleason, a community and small business insurance coordinator for the VNA, sat at a computer terminal, ready to walk people through the complexities of the new insurance exchanges.
“It's super exciting,” she said. “Every day in the news there's something really important to my job. But it's also frustrating because there is so much misinformation out there, and there's a lot of resistance to any sort of expansion of government programs. I really hope that people will go online and check what this means for them as a family or as an individual.”
Gleason is one of a handful of health insurance “navigators” in Routt and Moffat counties who can help individuals compare plans.
Months of training led up to the launch of the new website, and Gleason's ready to answer any question about shopping for health insurance.
“I'm talking to people now who really want insurance, who have been excluded from the insurance market because of preexisting conditions or cost,” she said. “These people are really excited to get it.”
She's also there to take some pressure out of the decision.
If people encounter technical problems on the site or don't have enough information to pull the trigger on a plan, she said residents here can take their time shopping and really start making decisions in November.
“They shouldn't get frustrated or abandon their search,” she said.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10.