In this 2014 file photo, a sign beckons patrons of the 16th Street Mall to sign up for insurance through Connect for Health Colorado. (Kathryn Scott Osler/Denver Post file)
Individual health care plan premiums could increase significantly in 2017 – by as much as 40 percent for one insurer – according to preliminary requests released Monday by the Colorado Division of Insurance.
The requested rates for the small group market reflect greater stability, with mostly single-digit increases and several companies decreasing premiums.
The requests, which will be reviewed by the insurance division for compliance with state and federal requirements, would not be approved until the fall. They come at a time of particular flux in the state’s individual non-employer market, as four companies have either trimmed or eliminated plans while a new entrant, Bright Health Plans, will offer individual plans both on and off the state exchange Connect for Health Colorado.
UnitedHealthcare and Humana Insurance will not offer individual plans in 2017, while Rocky Mountain Health Plans will offer the plans only in Mesa County through Monument Health. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield will not offer its PPO individual plans but will continue to offer an HMO option statewide.
The coverage changes among those four companies will impact about 92,000 people statewide, or about 20 percent of the 450,000 who buy insurance through the individual market, which is about 7.7 percent of Coloradans. They’ll need to find new options during open enrollment, which runs from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31, 2017.
“In the larger picture, what’s taking place is a market correction; the free market is at work,” said state insurance commissioner Marguerite Salazar in a statement. “And it is important to recognize that this is a market correction taking place on a national scale, not just in Colorado.”
Rate increase requests for individual plans were led by a 40.6 percent hike by Golden Rule, 36.3 percent by Colorado Choice, 34.6 percent by Rocky Mountain HMO and 26.8 percent by Anthem. The lowest increase request came from Denver Health at 0.08 percent.
Among small group plans, Rocky Mountain Healthcare Options requested an 11.2 percent rate increase, but the rest of the 13 companies asked for increases in single digits or decreases, with UnitedHealthcare’s request representing a 7.7 percent decline.
More than half of Coloradans obtain health coverage through an employer.
While the requested rate increases are concerning, the insurance division review sometimes results in rates being adjusted downward, said Adam Fox, director of strategic engagement for the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. And consumers who qualify for financial assistance could find that the subsidies absorb any rate increase.
“These rates do highlight the need to grapple with underlying health care costs and get a handle on those,” Fox said. “Health insurers can do things to control costs and we think they should arguably be doing more. But they’re not the only piece of the puzzle.”
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Service said in a statement Monday that proposed premium changes from preliminary rate filings do not capture what marketplace consumers actually pay. Last year, the average monthly premium for people with HealthCare.gov coverage getting tax credits increased $4 from $102 to $106 per month.
Colorado’s division of insurance has begun to study health care costs and the feasibility of shifting the state to a single geographic rating area, as directed by a law passed in the last legislative session.
Consumers can submit comments on the agency’s Health Insurance Filings page until July 6.
The insurance division will review and analyze the filings and notify carriers and Connect for Health Colorado of the approved plans for 2017. At that time, the division also will provide summary information and analysis regarding the carriers and plans for 2017.