Jessica Seaman, The Denver Post

Uncertainty may be flooding the health care market after a Texas judge’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act, but in Colorado there is some good news: There’s another sign pointing to the individual market stabilizing.

Insurers didn’t lose as much money on the individual market last year as they did in 2016 and 2015, according to a new report by the Colorado Division of Insurance.

As for consumers, officials offered good news: They’re likely to see lower increases in their health insurance premiums than in previous years.

“We’ve been waiting for this market to reach stability for four or five years now, and this could possibility be it, if these data are the start of the trend,” said Joe Hanel, managing director of communications for Colorado Health Institute.

The first signs of stability in the individual market came earlier this year when insurers asked for one of the smallest premium hikes in years.

After years of double-digit increases, the Division of Insurance approved just 5.6 percent average increases in premiums for plans on the individual market, which are sold both on and off the state’s health insurance exchange.

Roughly 250,000 Coloradans get their health insurance on the individual market. So far, more than 156,000 individuals have signed up to receive coverage for 2019 through the state’s online exchange, Connect for Health Colorado. The enrollment rate is 5 percent ahead of last year, according to a news release. 

Open enrollment for the exchange ends Jan. 15.

In recent years, the Division of Insurance has worked to counter the “chaos” seen in the health care industry nationwide, partly through open communication with the insurance companies, said spokesman Vincent Plymell.

It’s unclear what last week’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act could mean for health care in the state. The ruling by a Texas judge would strike the law, which was put in place under former President Barack Obama. Connect for Health Colorado was created in 2011 after the passage of the federal health care reform.

Despite the judge’s ruling, the Affordable Care Act — commonly called Obamacare — remains in place. And experts say consumers shouldn’t expect changes with their health care, at least for now.

Although the report, which was released Tuesday, hints at stability in the individual market, it also shows that health care costs, including premiums and deductibles, continued to increase in 2017.

In Colorado, the average monthly premium for those buying insurance on the exchange was $428 last year, up 15 percent from $371 in 2016. The average monthly premiums for those buying coverage off the exchange rose from $317 by 25 percent to $399 in 2017, according to the report.

The premium increases are being driven by a variety of reasons, including inflation, increased use of health services, new drugs, and medical service costs, according to the 2017 Health Insurance Cost Report.

More than half of Coloradans receive health insurance from their employers. Other insurance options include Medicaid and Medicare.

The report shows that in employer-based health insurance plans, deductibles rose last year. A deductible is the amount of money a person pays before their insurer contributes to their health care expenses.

In 2017, the average deductible for single-person coverage was $1,951, up from $1,888 the previous year. For family coverage, deductibles jumped from $3,481 to $3,721 last year. 

That health insurance costs are increasing for individuals with employer-based insurance “really sort of highlights the reality that we need to address the underlying health care costs, if we want to get a handle on health coverage costs,” said Adam Fox, director of strategic engagement for the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. 


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