Rocky Mountain HMO premium hike smallest on individual market

Mesa County residents who pay for their own medical plans through Rocky Mountain Health Plans will see an 11.5 percent average premium increase next year. However, that increase is the smallest percentage gain in the state among insurance companies.

The Colorado Division of Insurance approved individual and small group health insurance plans Wednesday and while Rocky had seen some of the highest increases in the state on average during the past two years, this year brought a different story.

Rocky Mountain Health Plans President and CEO Steve ErkenBrack attributed the change to the company’s focus on clinically integrative plans that seek to mold an individual’s plan around the client’s needs rather than create “one-size-fits-all” plans.

The company also removed several plans from the Connect for Health Colorado exchange — a marketplace for individuals, families and small employers to purchase health insurance and get financial assistance — that ErkenBrack said weren’t working.

“One of the things it reflects is the product we have on the exchange,” ErkenBrack said. “What it really shows that it is a model that really can be effective.”

Rocky Mountain Health Plans had asked the Division of Insurance for an average increase of 34.4 percent in 2016 and 49.8 percent in 2017 before being granted increases of 30.8 percent and 34.9 percent, respectively. For 2018, the company asked for 12.1 percent and was approved for 11.5 percent. Cigna asked for the largest increase in the state at 41.2 percent. It was approved for 30.9 percent.

About 8 percent of Colorado’s population buys health insurance on the individual market whereas 51 percent receive health care through their small or large employer. The increases announced Wednesday only affect those on the individual market.

Across all insurance companies, the individual cost change was 26.7 percent, about a 6 percent gain from last year’s total. The premium increases do not reflect federal tax credits that some who buy their own insurance receive.

ErkenBrack said he wanted to make clear that the increases are on the average and some customers might see very little to no change, while others will see prices go up more than 11.5 percent.

“The thing to keep in mind is this does not mean that everyone in Rocky will have a price point. It depends on the plan, depends on the person’s age and location,” he said.

Western Slope premiums on the whole have been higher than other parts of the state, as Connect for Health Colorado Director of Communications Luke Clarke said that Mesa County residents who receive a federal tax break get an average of $577 per month per family. Across the state, the average is $369 per month. Clarke said about two-thirds of Connect for Health’s customers get tax breaks.

The overall rate of premium increases was mostly attributed to instability in the market with the possibility of a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“Much of the year there was a feeling there wasn’t going to be any discussion to stabilize the market. Uncertainty certainly played a part,” Division of Insurance Communications Manager Vincent Plymell said.

Rocky Mountain Health Plans also was the only company to request a decrease of 1.7 percent on the average cost of small group medical plans. It was approved to decrease 2.4 percent.

Even with the smallest increase in the state, ErkenBrack knows many of the individual customers will feel the increase, especially those who are not eligible for tax credits. He also hopes there will be a clear direction one way or another from Congress in Washington, which he believes will help the market.

“It’s going to be significant. Even Rocky’s is still a significant increase. And obviously it will vary person to person and family to family, but the reason we have been so engaged with the exchange board and the cost commission is that we have to work together,” he said. “We all hope there will be some resolution so we know the rules going forward. When that happens, it will help us stabilize the market.”


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