Record low uninsured rates prop up Obamacare in Colorado as Senate GOP tries another repeal

Colorado's uninsured rate 6.5% in 2017
Record low uninsured rates prop up Obamacare in Colorado as Senate GOP tries another repeal
Posted at 12:02 PM, Sep 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-19 18:31:54-04

DENVER – Colorado continues to have record-low percentages in the number of uninsured people, and programs under the Affordable Care Act have led to more Coloradans being insured than ever, according to a new biannual study released Tuesday.

The report comes in the midst of a last-minute push by Senate Republicans to try and repeal the Affordable Care Act, which the survey shows has benefited Colorado across much of the state.

Colorado’s uninsured rate sits at 6.5 percent—relatively unchanged from the 6.7 percent rate it sat at in 2015—and more than 5 million Coloradans have health insurance coverage for the first time ever, according to the study, the 2017 Colorado Health Access Srvey, from the nonpartisan Colorado Health Institute.

The rate is down from a 2011 high of 15.8 percent, and from the 14.3 percent that were uninsured in 2013, just before most provisions of the Affordable Care Act took effect.

But the 6.5 percent of Coloradans who don’t have insurance say that it’s often because of the cost of insurance: more than 78 percent of respondents to the survey who said they didn't have insurance said they were uninsured because getting insurance was too expensive.

About 350,000 people in Colorado are uninsured, according to CHI’s survey.

And the survey says that Colorado’s decision to expand Medicaid has greatly benefited the state: nearly 1 in 5 Coloradans is insured by Medicaid, and approximately 1 in 4 receive either Medicare or Medicaid.

The survey also found that 81 percent of Coloradans covered by Medicaid say the system is adequately covering their family’s health insurance needs, but Medicaid members were also the most likely to say their providers wouldn’t accept their insurance.

The effects of the Affordable Care Act on coverage in Colorado are perhaps most notable in the numbers for Hispanic Coloradans, people living below the poverty line, and children.

The uninsured rate among Hispanics fell to 10.4 percent this year from 21.8 percent in 2013; the uninsured rate for people living below the poverty line dropped to 8.1 percent this year from 21.7 percent in 2013; and the uninsured rate among children is just 3 percent.

The uninsured rate for Coloradans aged 19-29, who often either struggle or fail to get insurance, is down to 12.3 percent from 25.6 percent in 2013.

Around 8 percent of Colorado buys their insurance on the individual market, which will see premiums go up by an average of 27 percent next year. But those percentages are higher along the Western Slope, where the uninsured rate is also higher.

People who have to get their insurance on the individual market are also less pleased with their plans. Around 45 percent said they were satisfied with their premiums, and only 38 percent said they were satisfied with their deductibles.

Both numbers were significantly lower than those from people covered by their employer or by federal assistance.

And there remains some trouble with people either having to switch plans or losing their plans.

Around 1 in 6 Coloradans had one of those things happened last year. But most people in that category fall into one of two groups: 22 percent of them were uninsured for less than 6 months, while 37.5 percent have either not had insurance for more than 5 years or have never had insurance.

The uninsured rate among non-citizens—which includes undocumented immigrants, lawful permanent residents, refugees, students on visas or visa workers, and asylum seekers—also fell from 50 percent in 2013 to 28 percent this year.

The uninsured rate among citizens was 5.6 percent.

Colorado officials say more work needed on federal level

Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar, who had blamed the Trump administration for playing games with people’s health care and destabilizing the nation’s marketplaces, applauded the numbers, but continued to implore Congress to do more to stabilize the markets.

“Even with such a high level of coverage, the work isn't done. We need to turn our attention to the costs of healthcare. It is these costs that not only drive so much of the increase we see in premiums every year, but drive people's concerns about the affordability of the services they get at the doctor's office or the hospital,” Salazar said.

“We must also work together to close the disparities we see across racial, economic and geographic differences. And more immediately, we need our friends in Congress to step up with a plan to strengthen the individual market for 2018.”

Senate Republicans try last-minute ACA repeal push

The numbers come amid a last-minute push by Senate Republicans to pass a new repeal measure of the Affordable Care Act before the reconciliation window expires on Sept. 30. Afterward, the Senate would need 60 votes to pass any repeal measure.

The latest effort is called the “Graham-Cassidy” amendment, named after its sponsors: South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy.

Among the things it would do is eliminate some coverage the Affordable Care Act has required, and eliminate requirements that insurers cover people with pre-existing conditions.

It would also redistribute money from states that expanded Medicaid, like Colorado, to states that opted not to.

The Center on Budget Policy and Proprieties estimated the proposal would cost Colorado up to $823 million in federal money in 2026 alone, and shift it to states that specifically opted not to expand the program under the Affordable Care Act.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and his bipartisan panel of governors that includes Ohio’s John Kasich, which has championed a bipartisan solution to stabilize individual marketplaces, again on Tuesday pled with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) not to bring Graham-Cassidy to the floor for consideration.

“Only open, bipartisan approaches can achieve true, lasting reforms,” the governors wrote in a letter to the Senate leadership. “We ask you to support bipartisan efforts to bring stability and affordability to our insurance markets. Legislation should receive consideration under regular order, including hearings in health committees and input from the appropriate health-related parties.”

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., is considering supporting the Graham-Cassidy amendment after slamming the 27 percent individual market premium increases in Colorado in recent weeks, blaming them on the Affordable Care Act.

“Senator Gardner will review [Graham-Cassidy] and any other proposals that look at ways to improve our nation’s health care,” Gardner’s spokesman, Casey Contres, told Denver7.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., hasn’t supported any of the Republican health care bills that have come through the Senate so far, and is unlikely to support Graham-Cassidy in any form, as he’s called for a bipartisan solution via the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee that he’s a part of, and which Hickenlooper and his panels of governors presented their proposal to last week.

“At the committee’s recent hearing with governors, there was broad bipartisan agreement about many of the initial steps that need to be taken to make individual health insurance more stable and affordable,” Hickenlooper’s letter to Senate leadership said of the HELP committee meetings. “We are hopeful that the HELP committee, through an open process, can develop bipartisan legislation and we believe their efforts deserve support.”

On Tuesday, Bennet said he would fight Graham-Cassidy, saying each Republican attempt to repeal the ACA "is worse than the last."

“I can’t decide whether this is Groundhog Day or the definition of insanity: every attempt is worse than the last,” Bennet said. “This latest version cuts nearly $1 billion in funding to Colorado, sets up a nonsensical cliff in coverage, and puts patient protections at risk. The bipartisan process in our committee was making progress. Why would we abandon it now? This is exactly why Coloradans have lost so much faith in Washington.”

But by Tuesday afternoon, the Republican leading the bipartisan effort to stabilize the insurance marketplaces was calling the effort "over" in the wake of Graham-Cassidy. His Democratic partner in the effort, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, was not as committal to the effort being over, however.

The CHI surveyed 10,029 random households—60 percent cellphones and 40 percent landlines—for the study between Feb. 9 and May 21. The study was conducted by the independent Social Science Research Solutions in both English and Spanish.