Insurance Customers Are In For Sticker Shock

A lot of Coloradans aren’t going to be happy with the prices they will have to pay for health insurance in 2016.

The state Division of Insurance (DOI) approved the 2016 rates today for the 20 companies that offer policies on the individual and small group markets. The average price increase will be seven percent. Roughly one of seven Coloradans is covered through these two markets. The Colorado Health Institute analyzes the new rates in a brief released today.

Seven percent is a sizable increase. It’s higher than the rate of inflation, and higher than most workers’ annual salary increases. Even so, a lot of Coloradans will be jealous of those whose insurance premiums rose by 7 percent.

On the Western Slope, average prices in the individual market are rising a whopping 25.8 percent. This comes more than a year after the DOI combined two regions into one with the aim of bringing down rates in the ski resort corridor, which had the highest insurance costs in the country in 2014.

Average Western Slope rates fell 7.4 percent for 2015, but next year’s increases will stoke anger at the high cost of coverage compared to the rest of Colorado.

The state is also feeling the loss of the Colorado Health OP. The cooperative had to shut down this month after receiving only a fraction of the reimbursement it had been expecting from the federal government. The Health OP offered the lowest prices in most regions of the state for 2015, and people responded. Some 82,000 people signed up, accounting for more than half the policies sold on Connect for Health Colorado.

But even if the Health OP had stayed open, its prices would have risen sharply. Without the Health OP’s low-cost option, individual market plans sold on Connect for Health Colorado are rising by 12.1 percent, compared with 7.8 percent for plans sold off the exchange. That does not bode well for Connect for Health Colorado, which needs a higher volume of business to stay afloat.

So what can people do? First, they can shop around. Colorado still has a relatively competitive insurance market. And second, if you know any healthy, uninsured twentysomethings, get them to sign up for coverage. A bigger risk pool filled with healthier people would ease the pain for everyone. 

Joe is Manager of Public Policy Outreach at CHI.