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Colorado Rolls Out Obamacare

Roger Adams

This story has been updated at 3:00 PM 5/22/13: scroll down to the end for the latest information.

Later today (Wednesday 5/22/13) the Colorado Division of Insurance will release the list of health insurance companies that want to be part of Colorado’s health exchange.  So far 19 companies have applied to be included.  The exchange is mandated by the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, that was signed into law three years ago.  The act requires that everyone have health insurance starting January first of next year.  The health insurance law survived a Supreme Court challenge and Republican efforts to repeal it. Now, it’s coming into force. Over the next several months we will be reporting on how the new law will affect you. We begin with an explanation of the health care exchange.  Aspen Public Radio’s Roger Adams reports.

No longer a political debating point, so-called Obamacare is now a reality and it is getting underway. Perhaps to put the ugly political debate behind, it is being rolled out like the law whose name shall not be spoken.  If you’ve watched television in the last couple of weeks you’ve probably seen this ad: 

The ad is for Connect for Health Colorado... the state’s health care exchange as required by the Affordable Care Act.  State health care officials call it - a marketplace for healthcare.

“Its primarily going to be on-line,” says Vince Plymell a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Insurance,  “and people are going to be able to go on there starting October first and search and research for insurance and figure out what fits their needs, their health needs, their financial needs and their family needs.”

The idea behind the Affordable Care Act is that it will provide healthcare to everyone. By bringing younger and healthier people into the pool of insured it is also hoped health care costs will be reduced for everyone. A key component of the act is the healthcare exchange. The federal government will create them for states that have decided not to create their own. Colorado was quick to create Connect for Health and it is among the first in the country.

"Only one in ten Colorado residents knows what a health care exchange is."

The TV ads are the first part of a marketing campaign that will be stepped up in coming weeks says Myung Kim, Director of Outreach for the exchange.

“We are building a new health insurance marketplace for Coloradans and we understand from research that there is very little awareness of this new option and this new service.”

In fact, despite all the news coverage Obamacare received, the research shows only one in ten Colorado residents knows what a health care exchange is, let alone what Connect for Health will offer.  

More than 800-thousand Colorado residents are currently uninsured.  Estimates are that half of them would be eligible for the tax breaks that put the “affordable” in the Affordable Care Act. Based upon a person’s income the government will give tax credits to help pay insurance premiums if insurance is purchased from a healthcare exchange like Colorado’s Connect for Health.  

“The exchange is the only place that people can get access to the federal tax credits  or subsidies, says Plymell,  “that they can use to help them afford insurance.”

The federal tax credits cover individuals making as much as 50 to as little as 15 thousand dollars a year. Less than that and people will be covered under an expansion of Medicare and not the exchange.

Connect for Health Colorado is not designed as an insurance source for the poor, says Dede de Percin.  She is Executive Director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.  

“I think there’s this perception this is really only for very low income people but, in fact there will be at least some subsidy for very middle-income people.”

The exchange will help if, say, you have two or possibly three jobs but can’t afford the health insurance policy your employer offers. It is also designed for people who want to retire before age 65 or entrepreneurs who want to quit their job to be self-employed.  

Connect for Health will feature about twenty different insurance companies each offering plans at various cost and coverage levels. A bronze plan, for example, will cost less but pay only 60 percent of an operation or treatment. At the other end, a platinum plan, will cost more but pay 90 percent. Under the law no one can be turned down for coverage because of a pre-existing health problems and all insurers must offer the same set of services.

Vince Plymell says, “Hospitalization, emergency services, maternity and newborn care, laboratory services, preventative wellness and disease management services are probably the top ones.”

In addition to plans for families and individuals the health exchange will also offer a similar range of plans for businesses with fewer than 50 employees. The small business offerings also come with tax credits for the employer.

Connect for Health Colorado has just begun to market itself. The exchange will be open October first.  Everyone is required by the new law to have health insurance coverage by January first. The penalties for not buying a policy will start with a penalty of one percent of a person’s income in the first year and ramp up in following years.

UPDATE - 5/22/2013 - 3:00 PM - Roger Adams

The Colorado Division of Insurance (DOI) has released a list of 17 health insurers seeking to become part of the Colorado health exchange mandated by the Affordable Care Act.  Together the companies are proposing several hundred different plans for individuals, families and small businesses.

This list of companies and plans is here.

A Frequently Asked Questions sheet is here.

The deadline for submitting the plans was May 15 and in the coming weeks DOI will review the plans to make certain they qualify under terms of the federal law.  Once approved, they will become part of the Connect for Health Colorado, the state’s health exchange.  It is a one-stop marketplace to research and select health care coverage.  To receive federal tax credits for buying health insurance individuals and small businesses must purchase coverage through Connect for Health Colorado.

Policies will go on sale when the exchange opens on October first.  The Affordable Care Act requires that everyone have health insurance beginning on January first 2014. 

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