Bill study could even out health insurance costs across Colorado | SteamboatToday.com

Bill study could even out health insurance costs across Colorado

Colorado currently has nine health insurance regions.

— A bill that would study the feasibility of putting all of Colorado into one geographic region to determine health insurance costs has passed the Colorado House of Representatives and will now head to the Colorado Senate for a vote.

Currently, Colorado is divided into nine regions, each with its own health insurance rates based, in part, on the cost and availability of providers in a given region.

Routt County falls into the Mountain Region, which has insurance premium costs higher than the rest of Colorado and the country, according to proponents of the bill.

"We are now recognized as having the highest insurance premiums in the country," said Chris Neuswanger, a self-employed home loan specialist and resident of Avon, which falls into the same “west” insurance region as Steamboat Springs. "We've got really kind of a crisis going on.”

Neuswanger said he took a personal interest in the health insurance issue after continuing to see his premium rates increase while his benefits were cut or reduced over the past few years.

"My personal individual insurance premiums went from about $300 a month a few years ago to $744 a month," he said. "I have clients and friends who are uninsured or underinsured wondering how they can keep affording coverage."

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If passed, House Bill 16-1336 would require the Department of Regulatory Agencies to conduct a study to determine the impacts of establishing a single geographic area for premium rates, according to a release from state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, a co-sponsor of the bill.

"We've been working on how to solve the high cost of health insurance in the mountains for years," Mitsch Bush said in a news release. "I am excited that this idea is at last moving forward and optimistic that we will be able to bring some relief to the families that have been paying outrageously high premiums."

According to bill sponsors, premiums in the west region of Colorado increased an average of 25.6 percent in 2016, while increases statewide averaged 9.8 percent.

A single region would mean a bigger risk pool and more even costs, Mitsch Bush said Monday.

“The bigger the risk pool you have, the more costs are spread around,” she said.

If passed, the bill would require a feasibility study to be completed by Aug. 1.

"We're very hopeful," Neuswanger said.

As part of his interest in lowering premiums in the region, Neuswanger set up equalrates.com, a website to update residents about the bill's progress.

The site includes an online petition to support the bill, which had been signed by 1,500 people as of Monday.

One of the signatures came from Steamboat Springs orthopedic surgeon Dr. Alex Meininger, who said he is a "front lines participant in healthcare in rural Colorado."

"Insurance price disparities are not only discouraging participants in the healthcare economy, but they are restricting access to care for hard-working Colorado citizens," Meininger wrote.

A handful of other Steamboat Springs residents have also signed the petition.

Mitsch Bush said the Senate will conduct a second reading and voice vote on the bill Tuesday, and the bill could then move to a third reading.

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