Rob Douglas: Sticker shock hits Ski Town USA
October 24, 2013
A week ago, Steamboat Springs resident Leah Wolf Martin knocked on my door and asked if I was aware health insurance premiums for coverage mandated by the Affordable Care Act were far higher in Steamboat than in most other Colorado communities.
As it turns out, Martin spotted an issue that has U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., asking the Obama administration to grant waivers from the health care law for his constituents in Summit County while simultaneously requesting that the Colorado Division of Insurance explain the extreme variations in health insurance premiums between Colorado's 11 geographical rating areas.
Based on Martin's experience shopping for health insurance that complies with the new law and my review of health insurance premiums available at http://www.connectforhealthco.com — the online health insurance exchange for Affordable Care Act compliant policies in Colorado — elected representatives serving Routt County should request waivers from the law for their constituents while determining why one of the healthiest counties in Colorado is facing some of the highest health insurance rates.
Martin and her husband are independent engineering consultants raising two children in Steamboat. Based on their income, the Martins are not eligible for a health insurance subsidy under the new law. Currently, the Martins have a family health insurance policy with a $1,500 per person deductible. During their annual renewal in August, the premium went from $700 to $900 per month. Recently, the Martins were notified that because of the new law, their insurance plan will be discontinued Jan. 1.
Due to the termination letter, Martin went to http://www.connectforhealthco.com and found a "silver" family policy that she thinks is the equivalent of her family's current policy. It has the same deductible and is offered by the same company. The price is $1,098 per month. Even if the Martins increase their deductible to $6,000 per person, the premium drops to only $900 per month.
Concerned that the cost was increasing $4,776 per year over what it was just six months ago, Martin began researching what her family's policy would cost in other Colorado counties. Although she found a few counties where the price is higher, she found many counties where the price is dramatically lower. In Jefferson County, for example, an equivalent policy costs 31 percent less than it does in Routt County.
Reinforcing Martin's observations, Solutions — an online publication of the Buechner Institute for Governance at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver — published an article this week about the extreme health insurance price differentials between Colorado counties and the growing reality that, given those differentials, the Affordable Care Act may be unaffordable for many folks who work in Colorado's ski towns.
In the article "Polis fights sky-high rates as ski town signups stall," Solutions reports, "Health insurance rates are so high in Colorado's mountain resort areas that U.S. Rep. Jared Polis plans to seek waivers from the federal government so people who skip buying insurance in 2014 won't face financial penalties."
While examining health insurance costs under the new law in Summit County, the article states:
"Rates … are up to three times higher in resort communities from Breckenridge to Vail and Aspen than in other parts of the state. For instance, a 40-year-old buying a mid-level silver plan in Greeley could pay as little as $232 per month while that same person in the resort communities could pay as much as $667 per month."
Because of Colorado's geographical rating system, the cost differential for Routt County — and Moffat County — is almost as high as Summit County. In Routt, that same 40-year-old could pay as much as $598 per month or about 2 1/2 times more than in Weld County where Greeley is located.
Martin thinks all Americans have a right to affordable health insurance and that no one should be denied coverage because of a preexisting condition. But under the new law, she thinks the cost of health insurance in Routt County may prove unaffordable and detrimental for middle-class families and small-business owners.
Unfortunately, Martin's concerns probably will fall on deaf ears in Denver and Washington, D.C.
To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.