Sentinel reporter shocked at costs

Talk about sticker shock.

If I needed another reason to keep my day job, it’s the prices of health care insurance I found on Colorado’s marketplace for such insurance, connectforhealthco.com.

Starting Jan. 1, residents need to be signed up for insurance or face a penalty. Penalties include 1 percent of annual income or $95, whichever is greater. Enrollment is open through March 31, 2014.

After entering my information — I’m 39 and I need to cover my daughter, who just turned 1 — monthly premiums started at about $380 with a $6,300 per-person deductible for a Rocky Mountain Health Plans plan in the lowest-level bronze range.

Monthly premiums in the gold range started at $543 a month with a $500 per-person deductible.

In comparison, I pay about $150 a paycheck in premiums and have a $4,000 per-person deductible through The Daily Sentinel’s large group plan through Rocky Mountain Health Plans. Of course, my employer picks up most of the health care tab, but more on that later.

The range of bronze, silver and gold health care packages dictate differences in out-of-pocket pay.

For example, premiums are higher and deductibles are lower for gold plans, but the insurance covers a larger percentage of health care costs.

In my ZIP code, Grand Junction’s downtown, 81501, Rocky Mountain Health Plans offers the most competitive rates, but shoppers could also choose from Colorado HealthOp, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and Access Health Colorado.

Anyone can log in and peruse plans without having to create an account.

It’s not that rates have gone up significantly in the past year, it’s that shoppers can now compare them side-by-side through the Connect for Health website, said Myung Oak Kim, a representative with Colorado’s outlet for the government’s Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.

People who sign up through the website (as opposed to signing up directly with insurance carriers) who qualify for tax credits will automatically receive those benefits, Oak Kim said. Also, signing up Connect for Health can direct those who qualify to receive expanded Medicaid benefits or other financial assistance.

People who need help signing up for plans can call Connect for Health Colorado; however the phone lines are often busy, Oak Kim said.

“This takes a long time,” she said, after sitting down with a reporter for about 30 minutes to quickly explain the website and its health care options.

Folks who need help shopping for health care insurance can contact a number of agents or brokers in the area. Information for 10 agents appeared in a 2-mile radius of the 81501 ZIP code.

Those individuals do not charge for services, but they are given a commission by health care companies for helping sign up people.

In my area, two agencies were available to help people, Hilltop and the Western Colorado AIDS project. Hilltop was the only resource available to help Spanish-speakers in my area.

One reason I pay much less for health insurance than listed prices on the health care exchange is that employers generally pay 70 percent to 80 percent of total health care costs, said Neil Waldron, chief marketing officer and vice president of strategic initiatives for Rocky Mountain Health Plans.

In the Affordable Care Act, in order for individual plans to qualify, people have to pay 60 percent of the cost, he said.

“It’s very difficult to compare risk of individual plans to the group plans,” Waldron said.

He said early enrollment has been slow, but more Western Slope residents are signing on to Rocky Mountain Health Plans.

“The broader the population you get, the more likely that premiums will be stable,” Waldron said.


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