Anthem staying in Colorado health insurance marketplace next year, a boon to market stabilization

"Colorado has created an island of certainty."
Anthem staying in Colorado health insurance marketplace next year, a boon to market stabilization
Posted at 2:45 PM, Aug 17, 2017

DENVER – Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Colorado is definitely staying in the state’s health insurance marketplace in 2018, the state Division of Insurance confirmed Wednesday.

The company had already tentatively committed to offering plans in Colorado next year when it submitted a rate request to the state in June, but Division of Insurance spokesman Vince Plymell told Denver7 Thursday the final commitment “actually came in the last week or so.”

Anthem’s decision will help in Colorado, as it was the only company offering plans in 14 counties in the state—most of which were on Colorado’s Western Slope. Those counties would have been without an insurer operating on the state marketplace, Connect for Health Colorado, had Anthem left the market.

Much of Anthem’s apprehension came from uncertainty as to whether President Donald Trump and his administration would pay the cost-sharing reductions included in the Affordable Care Act that help even out costs for insurance companies of different sizes.

Larger companies generally have more of a burden to provide coverage for people with illnesses and conditions that cost more to treat.

When the insurers’ rate hike requests for next year were released last month, Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar blamed the uncertainty over whether the subsidies would be paid for higher rate requests.

“It remains pivotal that the Trump administration stops using people’s access to health care as a bargaining chip and commits to funding the cost-sharing reductions in 2018,” she said at the time.

The White House verbally committed earlier this week to paying those cost-sharing reductions after weeks of threatening not to amid the GOP’s failure to pass a repeal-and-replacement of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The subsidies are expected to cost about $7 billion this year. The Congressional Budget Office recently said that not paying those subsidies would have been devastating for premiums across the country.

But interestingly, Plymell told Denver7 Thursday that Anthem had made its decision before the White House made its verbal commitment. He said the Division of Insurance’s work with the company kept it here.

“We believe that it was our work with [Anthem], and other carriers, that led them to stick with Colorado’s individual market for 2018. We kept the communication lines open and working,” Plymell said.

In a statement, Anthem Colorado’s president, Mike Ramseier, echoed those sentiments.

“We appreciate the open communication we’ve had with the Division of Insurance regarding steps that can be taken to stabilize the individual market,” Ramseier said.

But he also said that “the individual market in Colorado remains volatile,” and said the company would continue working with the Division of Insurance.

“As this market continues to evolve, we stand ready to work with the DOI and state leaders on long-term solutions that will improve the health care system for all Coloradans,” Ramseier added.

With Anthem’s commitment, Colorado won’t be losing any companies that carried plans through Connect for Health Colorado this year on the individual market.

Anthem requested a rate hike of 30 percent. The average individual market rate hike request was 27 percent, but they varied between 12 and 41 percent increases depending on the company.

And while Salazar said Wednesday she was relieved that the DOI and insurers had been able to work together successfully, she admitted that there was still much work to be done to make health insurance affordable in the future for everyone in Colorado.

“In this sea of turmoil stirred up by the federal government, Colorado has created an island of certainty. Our willingness to keep the lines of communication open and work with carriers like Anthem, Cigna and Kaiser highlights the fact that Colorado is a good place for these companies to operate. We are especially pleased that Anthem will continue to serve residents in the 14 counties that would have had no other options,” she said.

“However,” she continued, “while many breathe a sigh of relief, I recognize that the coming year will remain challenging for others in Colorado, with premiums increasing, health care costs rising, and uncertainty continuing around the cost-sharing reduction payments.”

The public comment period for the insurance rate hike requests ended on Aug. 4. The Division of Insurance is now doing its final review of the requests, and will release the final plans and premiums sometime between mid-September and mid-October, it says.

Open enrollment for next year through Connect for Health Colorado starts Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 12 of next year.

Read more on the rate hike requests made by the various companies operating in Colorado here.