Colorado regulators approve average 27 percent hike in insurance rates

Author: Joey Bunch - September 7, 2017 - Updated: September 7, 2017

Nurses at Lincoln Community Hospital in Hugo, Colo. attend to patients and administrative duties at the rural hospital on the Eastern Plains. (Peter Marcus/Colorado Politics)

Colorado health insurance regulators on Wednesday made official a 27-percent average rate hike for people buying their own plans next year.

Colorado’s Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar cited continued turmoil on Capitol Hill in signing off on the rate increases, which come on the heels of a 20.4-percent rise in premium prices this year.

In doing so, she challenged Congress to pass several key reforms by Sept. 30 — promising to request those rates be lowered if lawmakers met the deadline.

“We’d be more than willing to work overtime to get those new rates certified,” Salazar said.

The announcement came a day before Colorado’s Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper planned to testify before a U.S. Senate committee on a plan he developed with Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich to stabilize individual markets across the nation.

The plan called for the creation of a nationwide $15 billion stability fund that would funnel extra payments to insurers and bring down the cost of their customers’ monthly premiums.

Similar programs have taken shape in Alaska and Minnesota, and Colorado officials have spent months studying how to follow suit.

The results of an actuarial study on the costs of creating such a fund in Colorado are expected by Nov. 15, Salazar said.

The Hickenlooper-Kasich plan also called for funding certain subsidies that tamp down out-of-pocket costs for low-income Americans, such as co-pays and deductibles, through 2019.

The subsidy payments have become a political bargaining chip in recent months, despite warnings from insurers that ending them would destabilize state insurance markets. In Colorado, individual market rates would jump another 14 percent on average if those payments stop, Salazar said.

On Wednesday, Republican lawmakers pointed to the rate hikes as signs of the Affordable Care Act’s failings.

“This should not be OK,” said Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, in a statement. “It should not be accepted as normal that just like previous years, healthcare insurance costs will continue to go up on thousands of Coloradans next year.”

Salazar countered that insurers appeared to be turning a profit in early 2017, before Congressional Republicans’ efforts at replacing the health law swung into gear.

“We were hoping that this would be a year of stability,” Salazar said.

The rates approved Wednesday largely mirrored those requested by the nine insurance companies expected to sell plans on the state’s individual market.

The market caters to people without employer or government-based coverage, and it equals 7 to 8 percent of the state’s population.

Nearly every insurer’s rate increase – which ranged from 11.5 percent to 33.5 percent – hewed closely to their requests.

But there were exceptions.

Regulators mandated Bright Health Insurance Company impose steeper rate increases than originally requested, amid fears that the company couldn’t pay for the rush of medical claims that would follow, Salazar said.

The company’s average monthly premium rates will increase 27.4 percent in 2018, far more than the 15 percent average increase originally sought by the company.

Cigna’s proposed 41.2 percent rate increase – the largest requested hike in the state – dropped roughly 10 percentage points on Wednesday.

Still, regulators stressed that many Coloradans can avoid those price hikes by shopping on the state’s exchange, Connect for Health Colorado, which offers tax credits that rise along with insurers’ prices.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.