Health care hopes for mountain towns dim

Deepan Dutta
Summit Daily News

Two bills meant to help give Coloradans relief on health insurance premiums, especially residents of mountain counties like Routt, were both shot down Friday.

HB 1384, which sought to explore more affordable health care coverage options, and HB 1392, meant to significantly reduce premiums by buffering insurers against high-cost insurance claims, were both buried in 3-2 votes by Republican state senators Owen Hill, Vicki Marble and Jerry Sonnenberg.

The bills would have tried to address skyrocketing premiums in the state. According to an analysis from the Colorado Health Institute, health insurance premiums in Colorado have risen by 76 percent since 2014, with a 32 percent jump since last year.

The increase is driven primarily by an exodus of insurance carriers from the state, as well as uncertainty about the future of the Affordable Care Act under the Trump administration. HB 1384 would have studied more options for a health care system to avoid such pitfalls, including public-private partnerships and local insurance pools.

The failure to pass HB 1392, despite support in the state House, is particularly disappointing for many advocates for lower premiums in Routt and the Western Slope.

The bill would have created a “reinsurance” program that would help health insurers pay for particularly expensive insurance claims, lowering their costs and passing on the savings to consumers. Reinsurance would have also stabilized prices for an individual health market that has been in constant flux for years.

The program would have been particularly helpful for areas with the highest premiums, like Summit, as it would have covered 30 percent of claim costs in areas with the highest premiums while covering 20 percent for the rest of the state.

The nonprofit Family & Intercultural Resource Center said it was also disappointed in the loss of the bills. While acknowledging that there was no known sure-fire way to tackle the premium hikes, the bills were a good first step.

“While there are larger conversations necessary to address cost containment, establishing a high-risk reinsurance program is a first step to solving our health care crisis,” FIRC said in a statement advocating HB 1392’s passage.

Aubrey Hill, director of health systems change at the nonprofit Center for Health Progress, said her organization also supported the reinsurance bill and hopes to see progress in the future.

“We understand there’s a lot of areas in the state where health insurance is unaffordable, and the bill was one option to address some of the high costs,” Hill said. “We are disappointed it did not pass the Senate. But we’re hoping to continue the conversation and find a solution that will start bringing down costs for regular people.”

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