DENVER — Taking aim at two major gripes with the new health care law, Colorado regulators announced Friday that they'll give health insurers another year to offer plans that don't meet new federal requirements and will revise geographic rating zones that have led to high premiums in some mountain counties.
The Colorado Division of Insurance said it would give insurers until the end of 2015 to continue offering health coverage that is skimpier than current federal law allows. They said they don't know how many insurers will take up the offer, or how many consumers will sign up to extend non-compliant plans.
About 100,000 of the 335,000 Coloradans who got cancellation notices have already extended their plans. Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar said those people can now keep those plans for longer.
"We don't know what the takeup is going to be," Salazar said.
Salazar wasn't sure whether customers who didn't extend noncompliant plans would face federal fines for not meeting the individual mandate to have health insurance. But she said that customers who didn't renew won't be allowed to go back and buy the limited plans now.
Insurance regulators said they anticipate two insurers offering the extension, but they didn't name the companies or guess how many people would be affected.
Regulators also announced they may revise Colorado's 11 health insurance rating areas, a response to howls from four mountain counties that wound up with highest-in-the-nation premiums. In the "Resort" area of Garfield, Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties, the cheapest mid-level plan is $483 a month. In Denver, the same plan is about $280 a month.
"The status quo is killing our middle class," said Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs, who attended the announcement.
Colorado Division of Insurance will accept public comments on some new proposed rating zones and announce a plan next week. Either one would lump those "Resort" counties with more counties in rural Colorado, leading to slight premium reduction for the "Resort" premiums and a slight hike in premiums for everyone else in that zone. Salazar called the move "increasing the risk pool."
"I can't say today whether premiums are going to go up or down," Salazar said. "We'll find out."
If approved, the new rating zones would take effect in January. They weren't scheduled for a revision until January of 2016.
"This becomes a six-month problem, not an 18-month problem," Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, whose district is in the high-cost area.
Also Friday, health insurer Kaiser Permanente announced it is considering offering plans for mountain communities along Interstate 70 by 2016. The company didn't elaborate on how it would make its decisions or what premiums might be.