Statewide health insurance cuts mean fewer options for local residents

Individual plan premiums to see significant increases

by Olivia Lueckemeyer

Up until now, residents of Gunnison County have had three choices when it comes to purchasing individual health insurance plans. However, due to massive cuts to non-employer plans by four Colorado insurance companies, only one provider will continue offering individual plans within the Western Slope region next year, and that company is requesting a significant premium increase.

On June 6, the Colorado Division of Insurance (DOI) released preliminary information for 2017 proposed health plans and premiums. The announcement confirmed that four insurance companies either will not offer or will significantly cut back individual plans for next year.

Formerly, Gunnison County residents have had the option of purchasing three of the four individuals plans offered in Colorado, through UnitedHealthcare, Rocky Mountain Health Plans, or Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. In 2017, those options will be reduced to one, with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield becoming the sole provider of individual health insurance plans countywide.

Lee Eakin, a senior resource specialist with the county’s health and human services department, said while she doesn’t have an exact figure of how many residents will lose their insurance, she anticipates a widespread local impact.

“I would imagine it would significantly impact Gunnison County residents because a lot of people are enrolled with Rocky Mountain Health Plans,” Eakin said.

According to a press release from the DOI, 92,000 people statewide can expect to lose their coverage as a result of these cuts. The loss of individual UnitedHealthcare plans will impact 9,914 Coloradans, while the reduction of individual plan offerings from Rocky Mountain Health Plans will affect approximately 10,000 people statewide.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield will continue to offer HMO (health maintenance organization) individual plans, however they will cease to provide PPO (preferred provider organization) individual plans, which will impact 62,310 people statewide. Anthem is also requesting a premium increase of 26.8 percent for individual HMO plans from the DOI.

Premium increases were determined after each provider reviewed what they paid out in health claims to doctors, hospitals and other providers this year in order to set appropriate premiums for next year that would allow them to pay claims and remain in business.

“In general, the companies have indicated that the people enrolled in individual plans have used more healthcare services and with greater frequency than anticipated,” Marguerite Salazar, Colorado insurance commissioner, explained. “While the DOI will evaluate information provided by the companies to determine if their requested premium increases are correct, all of us in the industry must tackle the more pressing question of what is driving the increased health costs in the individual market that lead to higher premiums.”

A new entrant to the Colorado market, Bright Health Plans, will sell plans in both the individual and group market, but it is yet to be determined whether or not those plans will be offered in Gunnison County.

According to local insurance agent Gary Shondeck, not much can be done prior to rates being set in October. However he advises people to be proactive, be vocal, and refrain from waiting until the last minute when shopping for plans during the open enrollment period this winter.

“It’s going to be super busy. I’ve made a commitment to figure this out and I have four certified agents to help people through this mess,” Shondeck said. “Right now the status of healthcare on the Western Slope is a moving target, but contact your state representative. They are the ones who passed the legislation and need to stand up for what they’ve done.”

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