Steamboat Springs Routt County residents who buy insurance on Colorado's new health exchange soon will find out how a change to the state's health insurance rating map will affect their premiums in 2015.
State regulators just got approval from the federal government to add Pitkin, Garfield, Eagle and Summit counties to the same 17-county health insurance area that Routt currently is in.
The move aims to lower the premium prices in those four counties where health insurance is most expensive by placing them in a larger risk pool.
Officials have acknowledged the move could end up raising premiums in places such as Northwest Colorado.
Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar told NPR and Kaiser Health news that while the move could lower premiums in the four mountain resort counties, it also could raise them in some of the other rural counties in the region.
For the purposes of the health insurance map, Routt is considered a rural county and not a resort county.
"It is about fairness," Salazar told NPR. "When we put (the resort counties) together, we didn't know what the difference and disparity was going to be. We found out pretty quick."
The health insurance geographic regions help determine the cost of insurance under the Affordable Care Act on the state's new health exchange.
Officials won't know how redrawing the map will impact premiums across the region until insurance carriers provide 2015 rates and plans June 6.
Routt County Commissioner Steve Ivancie said the change to the map could end up being a "double-edged sword."
"It could be good, and it could balance out the premium prices, or it could raise them," he said. "The whole idea is to spread the risk. They feel this is the most equitable way."
Ivancie stressed the complexity of the issue and said places such as Routt County and other mountain resort areas are in a tougher position because of a lack of competition among providers.
State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, said she is supportive of the change to the map.
"I think there are a lot of moving parts, but my expectation is that having a larger risk pool and having more competition and having the Division of Insurance being able to negotiate rates on our behalf will help us, and I may be wrong," Mitsch Bush said Thursday. "I had originally thought the whole state would be a risk pool, and there are a number of different reasons why it isn't, and some of it has to do with the Front Range. I guess we'll see what happens, and I will be very closely keeping my eye on this."
Mitsch Bush said that last year when the health exchange first launched, she researched the general price of insurance plans in Steamboat Springs, Edwards and Denver and was struck by the difference in prices.
She is in a unique position in that she represents two neighboring counties, Routt and Eagle, that have different insurance prices because of the different insurance areas they were included in.
The Kaiser Family Foundation recently found that Garfield, Eagle, Pitkin and Summit counties have the highest health care premiums in the country.
While Routt County also hosts a ski resort, it was not included in the smaller mountain resort insurance region when the map was drawn.
The move ended up being positive for Routt County as premiums here were lower than in the resort region but still higher than in the Front Range.
The Kaiser Family Foundation found the cost of the least expensive silver-level plan for a 40-year-old person was $483 in the Colorado Resort Region.
The cost for an equivalent plan in Steamboat Springs is $349.
Health insurance premiums generally are more expensive in places such as Edwards and Steamboat because there is less competition among a fewer number of insurance providers and because there are fewer medical providers.
In addition to geography, family size, income, age and tobacco use determine the cost of premiums.
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