10% of area’s eligible using health exchange

In the first six months of the enrollment period for Connect for Health Colorado, the state’s health-insurance exchange, about 10 percent of the eligible population in the Northern Colorado and Boulder Valley regions signed up for coverage via the exchange.

Enrollment numbers can’t be compared with the population as a whole because not everyone is eligible for coverage purchased on the exchange.

The population of all four counties – Larimer, Weld, Boulder and Broomfield – as of 2012 was 937,794 but only about one in five Colorado residents meets the eligibility requirements to purchase a plan using the exchange.

Applying that statistic to Northern Colorado and the Boulder Valley, about 187,558 people in the region are eligible for the exchange. Data from Connect for Health Colorado show that in Larimer, Weld, Boulder and Broomfield counties combined, 19,028 people signed up through the exchange from Oct. 1 to March 8, or about 10 percent of the eligible population.

In Larimer County, 6,035 people enrolled via the exchange in the first six months, while 4,099 enrolled from Weld County. In Boulder County, 7,629 people have enrolled, and in Broomfield County, 1,265 people have enrolled.

In order to be eligible to purchase a plan on the exchange, an individual or family must not have another insurance plan, including TRICARE or Medicare, must not be eligible for public health coverage such as Medicaid or Child Health Plan Plus, and must not have access to affordable coverage through an employer.

Affordable coverage in this sense is defined as insurance that costs less than 9.5 percent of a household’s income.

“About 80 percent of Coloradans are covered through other sources, mainly employers or Medicare, and would not be our customers,” according to Ben Davis, spokesman for Connect for Health Colorado.

Statewide as of March 8, 87,766 people have enrolled in coverage through the exchange. The open-enrollment period for the exchange ends March 31.

Staff at the exchange are working to both sign more people up before the deadline and to manage the population that already has signed up, according to exchange chief executive Patty Fontneau, during a conference call with exchange directors from several other states with their own exchanges.

The call was organized by Families USA, a national nonprofit that advocates for the Affordable Care Act.

During the call, Fontneau addressed the question of how many people on the exchange had been previously insured.

Many have raised concerns about exchanges’ ability to get previously uninsured people signed up, saying that instead the exchange is merely signing up people who had coverage elsewhere before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Statistics that might shed more light on the situation are hard to come by, at least in Colorado, according to Fontneau. On the Connect for Health Colorado site, the question about previous insurance is optional, and less than half of the people who sign up for coverage choose to answer it.

Of that half, a “good solid chunk” are previously uninsured, Fontneau said.

Colorado’s exchange enrollment falls in the middle of the pack compared with that of other states. In Kentucky, about 60,000 people have enrolled, according to Bill Nold, deputy executive director at the Office of the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange.

The state of Washington has enrolled about 109,000 people, according to Richard Onizuka, CEO of Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

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Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, marmbrister@ncbr.com or twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR

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