Insight & Analysis / Geographic Rating Areas: Where You Live and What You Pay
Geographic location is among the few variables that can still affect premium prices, but what do the geographic rating areas look like in Colorado and how different are prices?
The Colorado Division of Insurance established 11 geographic ratings areas (GRA) based on medical costs and utilization rates. Much attention has been paid to the mountain resort areas (GRA 11) and their nation-topping premium rates, but what is the variability across the state?
Map 1 shows the geographic rating area map. Some GRAs contain one county, such as GRA 4 (Larimer County) and GRA 5 (Mesa County), while others contain many. GRA 8, for example, spans 20 counties.
Table 1 shows monthly premium prices in each GRA for a single bronze plan offering dental, vision, and pharmacy coverage for a 35-year-old non-smoker. GRA 11 tops the table, with a plan that costs $170 more per month than in GRA 1, the Boulder area, which is Colorado’s cheapest rating area.
We decided it would be interesting to compare health insurance levels with the premium prices (see Map 2).
Data from the Colorado Health Access Survey (CHAS) let us do this, although the CHAS data is based on Health Statistics Regions (HSRs) rather than GRAs.
For example, northwest Colorado (HSR 11 and GRA 10) posts the state’s highest uninsured rate at 24.8 percent and also faces some of the highest premiums in the state. Parts of western Colorado (HSRs 9 and 10 and GRA 10) also have above average uninsured rates and high premium costs.
Cheaper premiums tend to be available in the more urban areas, which also tend to have lower uninsured rates.
It is unclear whether expensive premiums are driving high uninsurance rates, or are at least a contributing factor. Colorado’s Commissioner of Insurance, Marguerite Salazar, is interested in exploring whether there’s a connection. Commissioner Salazar is convening the Health Care Cost Study Group, a group of experts, to study the premium cost variations.
Meanwhile, it will clearly be a challenge for areas with the highest premium costs to make much of a dent in their uninsured rates.