To Our Valued Stakeholders,

Confused by the healthcare debate in Washington? You are not alone. With all the activity in the last week, it’s far from clear right now in what direction we’re headed. Even as the debate shifts by the hour, a couple of points are known.

As the New York Times reported on Thursday, Senate Republicans plan a procedural vote next week on whether to open debate on a bill.

However, it’s not known whether there is enough support even to pass that preliminary question or which of the four different pieces of legislation would be on the table if it does pass. Vox.com provides summaries of the bills.

Even with the current divisions on the path forward, some still talk about finding a bipartisan approach to solving issues under the current law. The Commonwealth Fund offers this vision of how it could work.

In Recent News

Health insurance companies’ filings for 2018 individual and small group plans became public a week ago, prompting discussion of increases which average 27% in the initial filings for individual plans (7% for small group) in Colorado. This explanation of the drivers of rate increases by the American Academy of Actuaries provides a helpful perspective on the current requests.

I will be taking a couple of weeks off from these updates, resuming Aug. 11.

Until then, take care and enjoy your summer,

Kevin

Kevin Patterson, MURP, MPA
Chief Executive Officer
Connect for Health Colorado

To Our Valued Stakeholders,

The Division of Insurance today released the preliminary rate filings for 2018, with carriers seeking an average increase of 27% in the individual market and 7% in small group market. While we had hoped for a lower rate of increase, it’s important to remember that Advance Premium Tax Credit assistance will rise with the premiums and many of our customers have seen their net premiums decline as rates increased in recent years.

We also know from our own survey that many Coloradans who are eligible for assistance assume that they are not. We urge anyone buying their own health insurance to use the tools on our site to obtain an estimate of the financial assistance that may be available to them.

Even as uncertainty surrounds the national health policy debate, a number of reports are pointing to stabilization in the individual market, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Risk Adjustment report and this brief from Kaiser Health News on market performance to date in 2017.

An appendix to the CMS report listed risk scores in the individual market in all the states, where we found the news that Colorado’s score was the lowest (best) in the nation in 2016. The risk score is a calculation based on demographics and health status of enrollees.

In Recent News

You no doubt saw the news that Senate Republicans introduced a new healthcare bill yesterday. A vote could come as early as next week. America’s Health Insurance Plans was critical in this brief and industry leaders are outspoken in this Washington Post report. Politico published an early analysis of the new bill this morning, as did The Commonwealth Fund.

Take care,

Kevin

Kevin Patterson, MURP, MPA
Chief Executive Officer
Connect for Health Colorado

July 14, 2017

DENVER – Connect for Health Colorado® is opening the application period for its Certified Application Counselor (CAC) Program. The program designates organizations throughout the state to provide application assistance to customers seeking financial assistance for health coverage through the state health insurance Marketplace.

The CAC Program is an initiative that engages partner organizations to support Connect for Health Colorado’s efforts to provide Coloradans access to affordable health coverage. It is an opportunity for healthcare providers and organizations who already perform application assistance for health coverage programs to become Certified Application Counselor Designated Organizations. This program is implemented in compliance with federal rules and applicants must meet the Connect for Health Colorado criteria, including privacy and security standards. Connect for Health Colorado does not provide funding to Designated Organizations for performing this customer assistance.

Selected organizations will have staff and/or volunteers to perform the customer assistance duties of Certified Application Counselors (CAC’s). Applicants are required to:

  • Submit a Designated Organization application
  • Sign the Certified Application Counselor Program Designated Organization Agreement
  • Ensure that staff and/or volunteers who will be working as CACs complete mandatory training and become certified through Connect for Health Colorado

Deadline:  Applications can be submitted between August 1-August 31 for participation in the program Oct. 1, 2017, through September 30, 2018.

Application Documents: Can be found on the Connect for Health Colorado Certified Application Counselor Program webpage.

About Connect for Health Colorado

Connect for Health Colorado is a public, non-profit entity established by the Colorado General Assembly in 2011 to create a health insurance Marketplace.  It opened for business on Oct. 1, 2013, for individuals, families and small employers to compare and buy health insurance and is the only place to apply for financial assistance in the form of tax credits to help lower the monthly cost of premiums. Customers can shop online; get help by phone or online chat from Customer Service Center representatives; and access free, in-person assistance from a statewide network of certified Brokers, community-based Health Coverage Guides or Application Counselors. For more information: www.connectforhealthco.com.

July 11, 2017
Contact: Luke Clarke 720-496-2545

Colorado’s ‘risk score’ in 2016 is the country’s lowest, with expected healthcare costs 25 percent below the national average, countering claims of collapse in the individual market

DENVER — A recent report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provides national data that detail the stable health mix among individuals and families who buy their own health insurance and it scores Colorado ahead of all other states.

The report, “Summary Report on Transitional Reinsurance Payments and Permanent Risk Adjustment Transfers for the 2016 Benefit Year,” found that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “functioned smoothly” in 2016 as the market for families and individuals buying their own health coverage continued to grow.

“This report provides convincing evidence that the individual markets are stable and are not collapsing,” said Kevin Patterson, executive director of Connect for Health Colorado®. “The federal data demonstrate that individual markets are attracting a balanced risk mix, not just in Colorado but across the country. This is important to keep in mind as Congress considers national healthcare policy.”

The report calculates an “average risk score” for states. Colorado’s score of 1.26 compares to the national average risk score of 1.69. That means the overall healthcare costs for Coloradans buying their own insurance — including those who buy through Connect for Health Colorado and those who buy directly from health insurance companies — are expected to be 25 percent lower than the national average, based on age, sex and health. A lower risk score indicates a healthier mix of people buying insurance.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services compiles the data as part of federal programs to protect health insurers whose members have higher than average cost for their care.

Lower risk scores are common in states who operate their own marketplace, as Colorado does. Those states averaged a score of 1.52 in 2016. The scores did not change dramatically in 2016 from 2015, another indication of stability in the individual market.

However, Colorado’s 2016 score was improved from 1.37 in 2015. The scores for all states can be found here for 2015 and here for 2016.

To Our Valued Stakeholders,

We are continuing to watch closely the debate in the Senate over the Republican-backed alternative to the Affordable Care Act. The decision not to put the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) up for a vote this week, as earlier promised, does not mean the measure is dead. A revised version of the bill is expected to go to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for scoring while Congress is on its July 4 recess.

The CBO score released Monday said the measure would cause 22 million people to lose health insurance coverage, setting off vocal protests and stalling the bill’s progress. The biggest losses in coverage would be in Medicaid recipients but the bill would also bring an increase in net premiums to many Marketplace customers, demonstrated at the county level in this interactive map produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In Recent News

For our customers, proposed changes to financial assistance would hit hardest in rural counties, according to a recent report on Colorado by the National Academy for State Health Policy, which was reported in The Denver Post.

A group of 40 economists —six of whom are Nobel prize winners —publicly opposed the Senate bill in a letter to leadership urging legislation that would work to improve the care delivery system and make improvements to the existing law, rather than repeal it. The letter was first reported by Vox.com.

It’s been a long week for all of us. I hope you all can find time to enjoy your family and friends over the July 4 holiday.

Take care,

Kevin

Kevin Patterson, MURP, MPA
Chief Executive Officer
Connect for Health Colorado

To Our Valued Stakeholders,

We were of course pleased this week with the news that all our health insurance company partners filed plans to return to the market in 2018. With carriers leaving markets in other states, the news got a lot of attention in The Denver Post and other media.

Residents in all of Colorado’s 64 counties will still have at least one health insurance company offering coverage through Connect for Health Colorado under these filings. This news speaks well of our strong partnerships with the state Division of Insurance and the seven health insurance companies offering coverage to our customers.

In Recent News

The Senate healthcare bill was released Thursday.

We are still analyzing the bill but our initial reading is that it would drastically reduce financial support that thousands of Coloradans rely on to buy their own health insurance.

The proposed changes to eligibility in the bill would eliminate assistance for more than 10,000 Coloradans who bought insurance through us this year.

Reducing tax credit assistance would strike the hardest blow in rural communities where already too many people cannot afford health insurance.

We are urging policy makers to find solutions that make health insurance affordable to more people and this measure would not meet that goal.

Take care,

Kevin

Kevin Patterson, MURP, MPA
Chief Executive Officer
Connect for Health Colorado

To Our Valued Stakeholders,

For years at Connect for Health Colorado our planning has been defined by Open Enrollment cycles. Before the books are closed on one, the planning for the next Open Enrollment is launched with a tight focus on technology changes, improvements to customer service and expanding coverage.

Last year our board undertook in earnest a strategic planning process that will take our organization on the path to accomplish our mission over the next three years. The board set four goals:

  • Advocate to improve access to coverage in rural areas of Colorado.
  • Maximize the number of consumer and employers who shop and enroll through the health insurance Marketplace, and apply for available financial assistance.
  • Improve the ability of customers to attain and retain the right coverage for their needs.
  • Ensure that Connect for Health Colorado is a healthy and thriving organization.

Since then, our staff has been developing a set of objectives to meet those goals. Under those objectives we have defined success measures to track our progress and we have developed strategies to achieve that progress.

Stakeholders and interested members of the public have provided comment in board committee and advisory group meetings along the way. Now, with the product nearing completion, we have posted the most current draft for your review.

The board will take up final adoption of the plan at its July 10 meeting.

Take care,

Kevin

Kevin Patterson, MURP, MPA
Chief Executive Officer
Connect for Health Colorado

To Our Valued Stakeholders,

I hope that all of you had a chance to enjoy time with family and friends over the Memorial Day weekend. We have all been dealing with a great deal of uncertainty about our work as the healthcare debate played out at the state and national level the last six months.

Now, as most of the world moves into summer vacation season, we are preparing for the next Open Enrollment Period with the same mission we have pursued for six years — to increase access, affordability and choice for individuals and small employers buying health insurance in Colorado.

Despite the uncertainty, I want to assure our customers, our partners, our stakeholders and all of our staff members that we are here to connect Coloradans to health insurance coverage for 2018.

We are coming up on some key dates that will shape the 2018 Open Enrollment:

  • June 19 – Deadline for health insurance companies to file proposed individual and small group plans and premiums for the 2018 plan year with the state Division of Insurance (DOI).
  • July 14 – The proposed plans and premiums become available to the public.
  • Aug. 4 – Deadline for public comment.
  • Late Summer / Early Fall – The DOI releases approved 2018 plans and premiums.
  • Nov. 1 – Open Enrollment for 2018 begins.

In Recent News

You may not have seen that our own Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has joined Republican Gov. John Kasich in a group of governors working to preserve Medicaid and stabilize the private individual health insurance market. The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch reports the governors are putting together a bipartisan group of governors to develop ideas to pass on to the U.S. Senate for its healthcare legislation.

With the state Legislature in recess and the pace of the federal debate moderating, I will be reducing the frequency of these communications. You can expect to hear from me when developments dictate and at least once a month during the months leading to Open Enrollment.

Take care,

Kevin

Kevin Patterson, MURP, MPA
Chief Executive Officer
Connect for Health Colorado

To Our Valued Stakeholders,

Wednesday’s release of the Congressional Budget Office score of American Health Care Act reheated the healthcare debate with a projection that 23 million people would lose coverage in 10 years if the measure were to pass in its current form.

As troubling as these projections are, it’s worth remembering the bill is given little chance of passing in the Senate, where work is expected to start soon on new legislation.

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) weighed in with a nine-page letter to the Senate this week. The letter outlines a number of areas where federal policy makers could stabilize the individual health insurance market in the short term and in the long term.

In Recent News

The most pressing market stabilization measure AHIP recommended is continued funding of Cost Share Reduction (CSR) payments. For those who qualify, CSR payments help pay out of pocket expenses. As a recent Commonwealth Fund brief points out, they can make or break the bottom line for health insurance companies.

The effect the potential loss of CSR payments has on health insurance premiums was made clear Thursday in North Carolina, where Blue Cross and Blue Shield filed for an average 22.9 percent rate increase in 2018, saying it would be only 8.8 percent if Congress funded CSRs, according to an article in the News & Observer of Raleigh.

Take care and enjoy your holiday weekend,

Kevin

Kevin Patterson, MURP, MPA
Chief Executive Officer
Connect for Health Colorado

To Our Valued Stakeholders,

The Commonwealth Fund looked at enrollment in health insurance marketplaces in the recently concluded fourth Open Enrollment Period. Four states — Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Washington — achieved double-digit growth in plan selections, while growth slowed in other states and even declined in some.

The report said that nine of the 17 states who control some or all of their marketplace functions saw gains. We were, of course, pleased to be listed among the top gainers.

Legislative Update

The Colorado General Assembly wrapped up business for the year on Wednesday without acting on the Senate bill that would have repealed Connect for Health Colorado. The measure, which brought daylong testimony in support of our operations during a February committee hearing, did not advance out of the state Senate. The bill’s sponsor told the Denver Business Journal that he plans to continue to work on the measure.

In Recent News

National Public Radio interviewed Gov. Hickenlooper on the American Health Care Act (AHCA), passed last week by the House of Representatives. The governor said it would impact state spending by more than $1.5 billion without improving coverage.

Voters favor the Affordable Care Act (ACA) over the AHCA by a wide margin, according to a Morning Consult/POLITICO poll. For the ACA, 50% of voters approve and 42% disapprove, while the AHCA got 38% approval and 44% disapproval.

We have added a new resource to our website outlining our Priorities for Health Reform. You will find it on our Healthcare Reform Policy page with other documents relevant to the healthcare policy debate.

I’ll be taking a week off these updates next week but we will continue to keep you informed as we move forward.

Take care,

Kevin

Kevin Patterson, MURP, MPA
Chief Executive Officer
Connect for Health Colorado