Hundreds of area residents attended a health insurance forum in Basalt on Thursday night. The last-minute event was coordinated by the Basalt Chamber of Commerce, after thousands of locals found out this fall that their coverage will end in January. State Senator Kerry Donovan, the state’s health exchange, and the Colorado Division of Insurance participated.
An evening full of questions began with the most concrete answer of the night. People wanted to know why the insurance carrier Colorado HealthOP was suddenly canceled this fall. Division of Insurance spokesman Vince Plymell said it came down to how much the federal government was supposed to give the co-op, to cover Medicare and Medicaid patients.
“In early October, the federal government announced they would only be giving insurers across the country only 12.6% of what those insurers were expecting,” explained Plymell. “For the HealthOP, that meant they were going to get only $2 million of an expected $16 million."
Putting the co-op into the red and likely to run out of money in the middle of next year. To prevent that, Plymell’s office shut down the co-op, leaving more than four thousand people in Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield County without insurance for 2016.
Plymell and Connect for Health Colorado, the state’s insurance shopping website, have encouraged residents to get back in the saddle and purchase a new plan. But that’s been a bitter pill to swallow for many area residents. "Many of us feel alone in this mess,” said Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt, after thanking officials for making the trek out from Denver. “I’m one of the people who is heading towards poverty level. My insurance rates were just quoted going up from $600 a month to $900 a month [with] a $6000 deductible. Sound familiar, anyone?” The crowd groaned, and there were many similar stories during a question and answer session. The Division and a representative for the state website sometimes asked to help people individually, while other times seemed to doubt how common such problems are— and whether residents may be exaggerating.
“I might as well wrap my kids in bubble wrap and keep them at home, rather than pay for the cost of medical expenses in this Valley— or in this economy,” said Carbondale resident Brenden Petersen afterwards. He was happy with Thursday's forum, but Petersen and a friend shook their heads over one of the murkiest questions of the night: Exactly what is driving up insurance costs? None of the experts could answer. Regulators say it’s doctors and hospitals charging too much. A representative of Valley View Hospital said no, a lot of money is paying for Medicaid and Medicare patients and people who simply aren’t paying their medical bills.
Data showing just how many times people go to the doctor--and why-- is extremely difficult to access. But there could be answers down the road. Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he hopes to partner with other counties to get that, and see exactly what’s going on.