With the November election hanging low above the battleground state, and an emphasis on frustration with the Affordable Care Act, Republicans saw Tuesday’s news as a chance to persuade voters.
As the news release announced that the Colorado Division of Insurance had approved the individual and small group health insurance plans for 2017, right-leaning special interests readied their talking points.
The issue in the Centennial State has taken the national spotlight, especially as voters prepare to weigh in on a measure that would provide universal health care by charging a 10 percent payroll tax – with a heavy burden placed on employers – to fund the $25 billion proposal.
“Whether its Obamacare, or ColoradoCare, what we are seeing is the political class consistently clawing to give the government the power to kill by restricting choice and reducing options in health care,” said Jonathan Lockwood, executive director of Advancing Colorado.
“Our health care system is a disaster and today’s (Tuesday’s) news is more proof, as if we needed any, that Obamacare and ColoradoCare are huge deceptions, and cost us not only too much money, but could cost us our lives.”
The rate increases will hit rural parts of the state, where there is a lack of diversity in providers, particularly hard. Voters outside the Front Range are becoming increasingly important to candidates as races tighten, especially the presidential contest between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.
Left-leaning groups also were upset with the news of increased rates, though they placed fault on insurance companies.
“Because of the lack of transparency in some insurer’s filings, it’s hard to say how or if these significant rate increases have been justified. There were several insurers that redacted critical information in their filings, making it impossible for anyone but the Division of Insurance to review them in full,” explained Adam Fox, director of strategic engagement for the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.
“We expect all insurers to step up and start doing more to manage skyrocketing costs, like proactively negotiating prescription drug and other health care costs to get the best value for consumers.”
In Colorado, insurance purchased by individuals makes up about 7.7 percent of the insurance population, about 450,000 people. At least 51 percent of Coloradans get their insurance through an employer.
The insurance division approved 277 plans for the individual market and 667 plans for the small group market.
Part of the increase is related to a shrinking of the individual marketplace. UnitedHealthcare and Humana Insurance are not offering individual plans, while Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is not offering its Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) individual plans, and Rocky Mountain Health Plans is pulling back all of its individual plans aside from offerings in Mesa County.
The contraction impacts about 92,000 people.
One carrier, Bright Health Plans, is entering the individual market in 2017.
The Division of Insurance stands with consumers in frustration, pointing to skyrocketing health care costs across the country.
One example is a steep increase in the price of the EpiPen, a lifesaving injection device for people with severe allergies. Pharmaceutical company Mylan acquired the product in 2007, when pharmacies paid less than $100 for the pen. The price has steadily risen to more than $600 in some cases, though it has fluctuated.
“The recent EpiPen scandal is a prime example,” said Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar. “The drug maker raised prices, stating it did not expect consumers to pay the increases but rather their health insurance plans. However, when insurance plans must pay those increased costs, it will show up in consumers’ health insurance premiums.”
Federal financial assistance for premiums is available to low-income consumers who purchase plans through the state’s health insurance exchange, Connect for Health Colorado.
There is likely to be a decrease for tax credit recipients, on average about 11 percent for their subsidized premium. If those consumers shop for a lower cost plan, they can reduce their subsidized premium by up to 29 percent on average.
But the political lens focused little on assistance and solutions, instead pointing the finger at respective sides ahead of the election.
“Today’s announcement that 2017 Obamacare rates will surge by over 20 percent is absolutely devastating news for the poor and middle class,” said Colorado GOP Chairman Steve House, using the rate increase to attack U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat running for re-election this year against Republican Darryl Glenn.
At a recent debate, Bennet explained that 20 million more people nationally have health insurance than before the ACA passed, adding that it extended coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.
“Our health care system had big problems before the Affordable Care Act passed, it has big problems today,” Bennet said in Grand Junction. “We do need to have more competition, we do need to have better markets, and we’re standing in a place that needs it more than any other place.”