Health insurance open enrollment deadline looms for Routt County residents
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As the Jan. 15 open enrollment deadline approaches for the Colorado Health Insurance Exchange, it is much better to be insured than not, insists Ken Davis, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Community Health Partnership.
“I know it’s expensive,” Davis said, but the alternative can be even more expensive.
One in four people lose their entire savings to pay medical bills, he said. Health care expenses are known to be a significant contributor to bankruptcy filings, and an average three-day hospital stay can easily cost more than $30,000. Treating a broken leg can cost up to $7,500, and an average emergency room visit costs over $1,500, Davis said — all “very risky” numbers if individuals are uninsured.
There are also health effects, he noted, as people tend not to get as much needed or preventative care when they don’t have insurance.
And not having insurance is stressful.
For families and individuals inquiring about program eligibility:
For those 65 years of age or older: 970-819-6401
Northwest Colorado Health eligibility office: 970- 871-7330
UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center eligibility office: 970-879-1322
Connect for Health Colorado: 855-752-6749
Plus, being in an active community can also mean an increased risk of accidents.
“Having health insurance is a significant step in being a healthy person,” he said.
In Routt County in 2017, the uninsured rate was 13.1 percent, according to the Colorado Health Access Survey, which is much better than 24.8 percent in 2013 but still double the state rate of 6.5 percent.
The biggest obstacle is cost, with premiums in the Northwest Colorado region being some of the highest in the entire country.
Health insurance premiums in Colorado have risen by 76 percent since 2014, with a 32 percent jump from 2017 to 2018, according to an analysis by the Colorado Health Institute.
Factors contributing to the increase include an exodus of carriers from the state and the Affordable Care Act’s uncertainty under the Trump administration, according to the analysis.
For 2019, the rate increases should be much less drastic. The Colorado Division of Insurance approved a 5.6 percent increase in premiums for individual plans. Among health plans for small employers, rates will see an average of a 7.28 percent increase.
But it’s also about numbers.
“We don’t have a large enough population,” Davis said, relative to the high quality of care and infrastructure, which comes at a high cost.
With about 13,000 year-round residents, Steamboat Springs actually pays for the health care infrastructure to support the 40,000 people who visit and expect a high level of care, Davis explained.
There are also challenges for those who are underinsured — people who choose the plans they can afford but with very high deductibles and out-of-pocket costs.
With the election of Colorado Governor Jared Polis, Davis sees some hope in the bigger hurdle of lowering the cost of health care. While cost of care in Steamboat is likely comparable or even less than places like Vail and Aspen, it is still high and higher than the Front Range.
“Polis might actually be in a position to do something,” Davis said.
While campaigning, Polis put forth a number of health care proposals, including a statewide geographic rating, which would lower costs for rural areas. Polis also has discussed implementing a single-payer system, reducing prescription drug prices, establishing a state re-insurance program, reducing bureaucratic waste and making hospital visits more affordable by increasing transparency on charges versus actual costs.
The good news, notes Davis, is that there are some local no-cost resources to help people navigate the complex insurance system.
There are tax subsidies that can help people who meet certain criteria. And some of those “young invincibles” in their 20s and 30s who think they don’t need insurance may find they qualify for assistance, Davis said.
Individuals making $47,000 or less annually (before taxes) and families of four making less than $97,000 may be eligible for help. For those earning more, Davis points them to local insurance brokers as a resource to guide families and individuals through selecting a plan.
About 250,000 Colorado residents get their health insurance on the individual market, with more than 180,000 of those on the Connect for Colorado Health exchange, which was created in 2011.
While consumers can shop for plans online or talk to a representative with the exchange, there are also local contacts — as a real person can often make a huge difference when trying to understand the multitude of options.
But Davis stresses there isn’t much time, with just 10 days left to enroll.
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