by Rich Cimino
Coloradoans in every corner of the state struggle with the ever-increasing cost of health insurance on the individual market which has reached exorbitant levels and gets worse every year. According to the Colorado Division of Insurance, the issue is being felt regardless of zip code, with three years of annualized premium increases in excess of 20%, and even higher in rural and mountain communities. This means the average cumulative premium increase in the individual market has amounted to approximately 72% over the past three years.
These cost barriers cause healthy consumers to drop insurance thus leaving a risk pool that is sicker and more expensive. Everyone’s health insurance will increase – across all groups.
As a Grand County Commissioner, I know these people. Here in rural Colorado, we have family, friends, and neighbors who pay thousands of dollars a month for health insurance. The high-cost health premiums impede people’s ability to afford housing and transportation or save for education and retirement. Many work under the table or turn away work to stay below the income levels required to qualify for lower cost health insurance. Some move away or falsely use a friend’s address in a lower cost area to afford health insurance. These are drastic and risky measures.
Failure to stabilize health insurance this year will hurt many Colorado citizens, particularly small business owners and employees who don’t qualify for a group plan. Immediate action is needed to stop the rising prices and secure market stabilization in the individual market.
State lawmakers have an opportunity to take positive action this week in HB 18-1392, the Individual Health Insurance Market Stabilization Act. Counties & Commissioners Acting Together (CCAT) support this bipartisan bill to create a high-cost reinsurance program that buffers the insurance risk for unusually expensive claims such as for transplant and cancer care. This bill will provide protection to health insurance companies and in return will lower health insurance costs for our citizens. The whole state will see lower individual rates. Rural Colorado will see the greatest savings.
Re-insurance by itself will not fix health care in Colorado. Health Care cost savings for hospitals and healthcare providers are the next step, and the legislature is also working on this front and will continue work in 2019. Reinsurance is the first step to stabilize the individual market and it has worked in other states. This strategy has been endorsed by both Republican and Democratic governors and elected insurance commissioners in Alaska, Minnesota, and Oregon, all of which have re-insurance programs; Wisconsin and Maryland just passed bills for reinsurance, and Louisiana is expected to pass legislation.
We won’t find solutions if we kick the can down the road another year. Reinsurance is not a perfect solution, it is a solution that will have a dramatic impact now on the lives and livelihood of many Coloradans. We urge state lawmakers to follow their local county commissioners in supporting HB 18- 1392. Our communities can’t wait!
Editors Note: HB 18-1392 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee on Friday, May 4 at 10 a.m. at the State Capital. Commissioner Cimino is scheduled to testify.