Colorado's 2018 health insurance premiums finalized; 26.7% average increase in individual plans

Commissioner thanks Hickenlooper for stabilization

DENVER – Health insurance premiums for individual medical plans in Colorado will go up by an average of 26.7 percent in 2018, and small group plan premiums will rise by an average of 6.6 percent—both slightly lower than was originally estimated earlier this summer.

The Colorado Division of Insurance released the finalized premium hikes for next year’s health insurance plans on Wednesday, nearly two months after it released the requests made by the various companies operating in Colorado.

No companies pulled out of the state exchange for 2018, and even companies will be offering individual plans on the state’s health exchange, Connect for Health Colorado: Anthem (HMO Colorado); Bright Health Insurance; Cigna Health and Life Insurance; Denver Health Medical Plan; Friday Health Plans (formerly Colorado Choice); Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Colorado; and Rocky Mountain Health Maintenance Organization.

As previously reported, Anthem’s staying in Colorado provides a safety net to 14 counties that were likely to lose their only marketplace insurer had the company pulled out of the state.

The individual premiums, on average, came in 0.2 percent lower than the companies requested.

Most of the companies’ requests were honored by the Division of Insurance, but Bright Health’s premiums came in 27.4 percent above last year’s rates despite requesting a hike of only 15 percent.

On the contrary, Cigna Health had requested a premium rate hike of 41.2 percent, but the Division of Insurance only approved a 30.9 percent hike. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Colorado premiums will rise by an average of 24.4 percent.

Regarding small group plans, Anthem (HMO Colorado) received a premium rate increase of 18.1 percent, and Rocky Mountain Health Care Options, Inc. received its requested rate hike of 25.9 percent.

But Rocky Mountain HMO premiums will decrease this year, and UnitedHealthcare premiums will rise by only 0.5 percent.

Seventeen total companies will offer individual or small-group plans next year.

Individual plans make up between 7 and 8 percent (around 450,000 people) of the state’s population with health insurance coverage, and more than half of Coloradans are insured by their employer.

The 26.7 percent average hike is an increase from the average 20 percent increase in individual plan premiums in 2017. In 2016, individual policy premiums went up by 9.8 percent.

The premiums don’t account for the federal tax credits offered on the state health exchange that help offset costs for people based on their income, age and location in Colorado.

On Wednesday, both Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar and Connect for Health Colorado CEO Kevin Patterson praised work done by the state, insurance companies, and Gov. John Hickenlooper for bringing some confidence and stabilization to the insurance marketplace.

Salazar was especially thankful to Hickenlooper for his work with Gov. John Kasich to try and get the Trump administration to commit to fully funding the cost-sharing reduction payments engrained in the Affordable Care Act that most have said are a primary support column for the marketplaces.

“Even though we need long-term approaches that preserve the gains we’ve made and work to improve our health care system, the immediate need is for our Congressional partners to take actions that stabilize the market and sweep away the uncertainty pushing up rates and making companies skittish,” Salazar said. “Along with the Governor, I implore Congress to fully fund the CSR program to provide that relief.”

She called on Congress to get something done by the end of the month to be sure states have time to implement any new policies.

“I have to stress that time is of the essence. Any help that Congress can offer for 2018 would have to be completed by Sept. 30 of this year to ensure that we have enough time to implement that help before open enrollment for 2018,” Salazar said. “But we are preparing and we are working with our colleagues at Connect for Health Colorado to make sure we are ready to respond if Congress acts.”

Salazar blamed the uncertainty over whether or not Trump would pay the CSRs for the high premium hike requests made in July, which came months after the Division of Insurance asked companies to submit two different premium rate requests: one assuming the CSRs would be funded next year, and one assuming they wouldn’t be.

In the end, the Division of Insurance were able to use the rates under the presumption the CSRs would be funded, and said that led to significantly lower rates than if the CSRs weren’t funded.

“Recent signs point to more and more bi-partisan support of the CSRs, so I believed it was important to use the CSR-funded premiums in our review,” Salazar said Thursday. “The premiums would be up to 14 percent higher if we used the non-CSR-funded premium requests. I simply cannot ask my fellow Coloradans to pay even higher premiums for something that at this point almost everyone agrees should be fixed.”

“We at Connect for Health Colorado are near final preparations for the 2018 Open Enrollment Period but we support the proposals to add stability to the health insurance Marketplace in 2018 that the Governor has brought forward and which have the backing of other state marketplaces. We will do everything in our power to implement changes that could help our customers,” Patterson said.

Adam Fox of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative blamed the administration and Republicans for the market instability.

"While one party looked for ways to roll back access and affordability rather than making constructive efforts to fix the private insurance market, rates have gone up and consumers will bear the cost," Fox said.

He also backed Hickenlooper and Kasich's proposal to stabilize the individual markets.

"Our elected officials need to look at common-sense, bipartisan ideas like those presented by Colorado's Governor to stabilize the individual market," Fox said.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said he would work with his fellow senators from both sides of the aisle to come up with a health-care fix that has so far proved elusive for Congressional Republicans.

“Our current healthcare system will continue to fail Coloradans if we don’t do something to address the rising costs created by the Affordable Care Act,” said Gardner. “This should not be ok. It should not be accepted as normal that just like previous years, healthcare insurance costs will continue to go up on thousands of Coloradans next year.

“I’m going to continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle about getting something done to repair the damage the Affordable Care Act is having on Colorado’s healthcare system.”

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., also said that Congress needed to make fixes to the Affordable Care Act to try and stabilize markets.

“Today’s announcement from the Division of Insurance that Obamacare plans in Colorado will skyrocket another 26.7 percent on average next year is yet another reminder this law is structurally unworkable and has failed to deliver on its promises. Congress cannot give up on healthcare reform, and I will continue fighting for legislation that will get premiums under control and make healthcare more affordable and accessible,” said Coffman.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., also called for a bipartisan fix and for Trump to commit to paying the CSRs.

“Today’s announcement is yet another reminder that we need a bipartisan fix to our health care system that will lower costs and add quality choices,” Bennet said. “The Trump Administration should immediately provide long-term certainty for Cost Sharing Reduction payments to minimize the damage its threats and month-to-month approach have already caused. As we discussed today in our first bipartisan hearing, we must work together to increase competition, transparency, and affordability to improve our entire health care system.”

Up next: Some time later this month or early next month, the Division of Insurance will release more charts and datasets detailing the increases and how they will affect various parts of the state, and will also set a date for a public forum on the premium rates.

Open enrollment starts Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 12 of next year. Over that period, people shopping on Connect for Health Colorado can choose which plan best suits them.

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