Published: November 20, 2013
GREELEY — A quarter-million Coloradans have gotten health insurance cancellation notices; many are complaining about higher premiums in many rural areas; and a new poll reflects deep skepticism in the state about the new health care law.
State insurance officials launched a road tour on Monday in Greeley to address some of those issues. But it seems few people were interested in hearing explanations. The handful of confused insurance shoppers who did attend found dozens of empty chairs at the meeting.
Other meetings are planned in southern Colorado and on the Western Slope, where officials have complained their rates are unfairly high.
State Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar greeted the anemic crowd in Greeley with bright points about the new insurance regulations, such as insurance companies not being allowed to reject customers who are already sick. The law, she said, aims to make health insurance more affordable and accessible.
In response to complaints about the new insurance framework, especially confusion about canceled plans and geographic price differences, Salazar said, "A lot of things came about that maybe weren't considered early on, were unintended consequences."
State officials announced earlier this month that nearly 250,000 Coloradans have received insurance cancellation notices because of the new law.
And at the meeting, Salazar explained that health insurers set rates based in part in geography and called it a fairer method than giving everyone in the state the same rates, regardless of how expensive health care is in certain areas.
For example, Garfield County officials have complained that they're included in a high-cost "resort" area, not lower-cost areas to the west. Salazar pointed out that if Garfield County were moved to a lower-cost rating region, premiums would simply go up for their neighbors remaining in the "resort" area.
"We have a lot of complaints from the resort areas. And we truly have to explain that those hospitals do cost a lot more," Salazar said.
Insurance companies, she said, have no choice but to reflect price differences across the state, though she added that the Division of Insurance would review rating areas for 2015 policies.
"They've got to have rates that will allow them to pay the doctors," Salazar said.
Those who attended the meeting had few gripes about price differences or cancellation notices. Instead, they complained about delays in signing up through the state-run insurance shopping place, called Connect For Health Colorado. The complaints involved long waits to complete the mandatory first step and checking for Medicaid eligibility, even when they're certain they won't qualify.
Officials from the exchange offered assurances that the Medicaid step is getting faster.
"We're really working on that," said Lindy Hinman, the exchange's chief operating officer.
One of the attendees in the crowd, Greeley freelance writer Tracy Hume, said after the presentation that her understanding of the insurance system had improved, but the 53-year-old woman remained skeptical of the overall law. Her current insurance, she said, is pricey but valuable.
"I don't think it's going to get better," Hume said of her future insurance prospects.
A poll released Tuesday shows many people share her opinion. The Quinnipiac University poll of Colorado voters showed 40 percent supported the health care law, while 56 percent opposed it. Only 18 percent said they thought their family's health care would be better a year from now because of the new law.
The poll of 1,206 registered voters was taken from Nov. 15-18 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points
Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt