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Gazette Premium Content EDITORIAL: State's health care exchange called 'government gone wild'

The Gazette editorial Published: June 18, 2014

Colorado's health care exchange is about to give us less for more.

In a move last week that received little attention, shadowed by the border crisis and upheaval in Iraq, the Connect for Health Colorado board approved a $66 million budget for 2015. To help fund it, the board stuck a new "fee" (some say "tax") on nearly every health care policy in the state. The exchange will charge insurers $1.25 a month on all small group and individual policies and on all catastrophic policies that back up plans offered by employers with self-insurance pools. Insurers are expected to pass the new costs to consumers.

The fee will help fund the new exchange budget, which is more than double the $25 million Coloradans were promised. Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law House Bill 13-1245 last year. The bill established the board's authority to levy fees on insurance policies. Here's what the Connect for Health Colorado website had to say in a "fact sheet" about the law: "Connect for Health Colorado's ongoing annual operating budget starting in 2015 is estimated to be about $25 million." Not $66 million; $25 million.

In return for the 164 percent increase and "fee," Colorado residents will get less, less and less from the exchange.

"The approved 2015 budget cuts customer service from $22.5 million to $13.6 million, marketing by more than half to $4.8 million, and technology by about 24 percent to $29.5 million," explains a Denver Post news story. "The remaining $15 million will pay for operations, general administration (like salaries) and money to assist people in buying insurance."

The cuts to customer service will mean longer waits for people forced by the Affordable Care Act to do business with the exchange. Today, the call center tries to answer 80 percent of calls in 20 seconds. Under constraints of a 164 percent larger-than-expected budget, the call center will take 90 seconds to answer 80 percent of calls.

Apparently, a 164 percent increase in expected operating capital communicates a mandate for austerity. As quoted in the Post, executive director Patty Fontneau said her staff heard "loud and clear" how the board wants to keep expenses as low as possible and that longer call waits are acceptable. Although Fontneau talks of the need to provide less service with a larger-than-expected budget, the belt tightening did not stop her from accepting a $14,291 bonus and 2.5 percent raise last month.

If a less-for-more budget and "fee" were not bad enough, a Denver Post analysis found this week that Coloradans pay 20 percent more for all plans in the Colorado Exchange if they receive federal assistance. The exchange can charge them more because consumers spending other people's money don't tend to scrutinize the price.

The more-for-less budget and "fee" led U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, to blast Sen. Mark Udall. The Boulder Democrat's website calls the exchange "pure Colorado common sense."

"Taxes were raised by $13 million today on all Coloradans who purchase health insurance, but don't expect to hear anything from Sen. Udall," Gardner said in a statement. "Despite the fact that Obamacare would not be the law of the land without his vote, he continually refuses to speak up for Coloradans as their health insurance plans are canceled, their taxes are raised, and their premiums rise even higher."

State Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, called the new "fee" and bloated budget "government gone wild."

It should come as no surprise. This is what happens when politicians and bureaucrats take charge of matters they know nothing about.

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