Health insurance increases to be smaller in 2019

DENVER — Individual health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act in Colorado will increase, on average, 5.6 percent, and small group plans for employers with two to 100 employees will increase 7.28 percent for 2019.

The Colorado Division of Insurance, part of the Department of Regulatory Agencies, released the approved plans and rates last week. Increases are less than for 2018, which saw individual plans increase 32 percent from 2017.  

Averages, the Division of Insurance noted, are for all regions of the state, for all insurance providers and for all ages. The specific plan purchased, along with a person’s age and residential location, will affect premiums paid.

Tables and charts breaking down the 2019 information are available on the DOI website for approved health plan information.

Individuals who buy plans may benefit from premium tax credits. For people who are eligible for the credits, premiums will decline by an average 24 percent when enrolling in the same plan for 2019. The division said it may even be possible for individuals who shop around the exchange using the Connect for Health Colorado website to find policies that will cost as much as 50 percent less than what was paid in 2018 (see table).

“The 2019 premiums are the lowest we’ve approved in years, with minimal increases and, in some cases, decreases,” Michael Conway, interim insurance commissioner, said in a press release about the changes. “This is a dramatic change from last year’s severe increases, which were exacerbated by instability at the federal level and the Trump administration’s last-minute decision to cut off cost-sharing reduction payments.

“We worked hard in 2017 to be an island of stability amid the federal chaos to keep the insurance companies in the individual market in Colorado,” Conway said. “This year we worked to keep premium increases modest. With this foundation, my goal for the coming year is to attack out-of-control healthcare costs — the costs that drive insurance premiums up. That’s where we can really start to make a difference.”

The same seven health-insurance companies that sold individual plans in 2018 are returning for 2019:  Anthem (as HMO Colorado), Bright Health, Cigna Health and Life, Denver Health Medical Plans, Friday Health Plans, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Colorado and Rocky Mountain HMO.

In the small group market, 12 of the 13 companies that sold plans in 2018 are back for 2019. Rocky Mountain Health Care Options left but has folded into Rocky Mountain HMO.

Plan levels are categorized into gold, silver and bronze depending on how much the plan covers in health-care costs. The average premium increase for gold plans is a 3.81 percent, 11.86 percent for silver plans and 0.94 percent for bronze. The silver plans are seeing the greatest increase because of how Colorado has chosen to manage the cost-sharing reduction payments that President Trump ended for 2018, according to the Division of Insurance.

When funding for the reduction payments was eliminated, the payments became extra costs for the insurance companies. The payments are available only with on-exchange, silver-level individual plans. The Department of Insurance permitted health insurance companies to place the extra costs into the on-exchange silver plans.

People affected by the silver plans can shop for bronze or gold plans on the exchange, or go off the exchange to find similar silver plans.

Open enrollment for plans extends from Nov. 1 through Jan. 15, 2019.