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Rocky Mountain High Insurance Prices Rankle Ski Towns

WebMD News from Kaiser Health News

By Eric Whitney

Thu, Feb 06 2014

Colorado Insurance Commissioner Margeurite Salazar has been getting an earful about high health insurance premiums in pockets of the state since prices she approved were unveiled Oct. 1. She is under increasing pressure to do something about them now that part of Colorado has been identified as having the most expensive premiums in the country.

“To hear that they’re the highest in the country is very startling to me,” Salazar said upon learning where Colorado’s four-county “resort” insurance market ranks. The area includes the towns of Aspen and Vail.

One of the counties is now threatening to sue Salazar for approving the high rates, reports Health News Colorado.

Kaiser Health News compared premiums in new geographically delineated health insurance markets created by the Affordable Care Act nationwide. In central Colorado’s ski resort counties, the lowest-cost, silver-level plan costs $483 a month. That’s $22 a month more than the same level plan in the next highest-price market, a 12-county region of southwestern Georgia. It’s $100 a month higher than premiums in the ninth most expensive health insurance market, Fairfield, Conn., a tony suburb of New York City.

Many resort county residents “were hoping that the ACA would be able to provide some kind of affordable coverage for them, but in fact there’s a whole group of people … finding themselves priced out,” Salazar says.

She also points out that ski country residents have long paid more for health coverage than Colorado’s urban denizens.

“The biggest difference that we have with the ACA is the transparency,” she says. “People didn’t realize how much more they were paying than people in Denver (before the ACA).

“I think transparency has been a good thing,” Salazar says, but, “we need to figure out how to balance these things out. … It doesn’t really help to have all these (health insurance) plans if nobody’s going to be able to purchase them.”

Critics of the law say it’s making things worse for people in high cost insurance areas, because they’re required to buy a product many of them previously bypassed. The ACA sets minimum benefit levels for health policies, meaning the skimpier coverage people purchased in the past is no longer available.

Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat whose U.S. House district includes part of the resort area, last fall asked the White House to give people living there a waiver from the ACA’s requirement to have health insurance. No waiver was granted, and Polis has said little on the subject since.

Salazar emphasizes that not everyone has to pay the full sticker price. People making less than $45,960 a year qualify for subsidies to reduce their insurance costs. Average incomes for each person in the four-county resort region ranges from a low of $26,989 in Garfield County to a high of $54,428 in Pitkin County.

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