Gretchen Hammer is the executive director of the Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved.
I like to think I’m handy. As a teenager, I spent a summer on a work crew at a local camp. My kids trust me to fix broken toys and I enjoy doing basic home improvement projects. I can relate to the feeling that weekend home improvement enthusiasts get when a new a power tool shows up at the hardware store.
Speaking of power tools, the health insurance exchange in Colorado is the most significant new product for providing coverage for the uninsured since the development of the Children’s Health Plan Plus (CHP+). Yep. I’m excited about it.
Health insurance makes a difference in people’s lives. Study after study shows that people without health insurance delay or forgo care leading to suffering, stress and significant personal costs. Delayed care undermines the effective use of primary care that is the foundation of a functioning health care system. In many communities, health insurance is the only ticket for access because local providers don’t accept patients without insurance.
The health insurance exchange will increase health care coverage by addressing two of the major barriers for uninsured Coloradans looking to buy health insurance: affordability and knowledge. The Colorado Household Survey reveals that 88 percent of uninsured individuals cite “cost of health insurance is too high” as a reason why they are uninsured. “Do not know how to get health insurance” is a reason given by 14 percent of people for their lack of insurance.
The health insurance exchange in Colorado will be a virtual marketplace where individuals and small-business owners can research, compare and purchase health insurance. It is estimated that more than 300,000 uninsured Coloradans will be able to access coverage through the exchange. Many currently insured Coloradans in the individual and small-group market also may participate in the exchange.
The exchange is a particularly important new tool for low- and middle-income Coloradans because it will be the exclusive vehicle for accessing federal subsidies to help pay for insurance premiums. The Colorado Health Institute predicts that of the newly insured through the Affordable Care Act, 168,000 will have incomes between 134 to 250 percent of the federal poverty level. About 98,000 will have incomes between 251 to 400 percent FPL.
Launching a successful health insurance exchange in Colorado is going to be hard work. Colorado is off to a strong start with the community forums held across the state and a nearly $1 million grant to support planning the exchange.
For any successful project, you need a good plan, the right tools and the best minds. The uninsured in Colorado are counting on the success of the exchange, so let’s put our tool belts on and get to work.
How can Colorado build a great health insurance exchange? Post your thoughts in the comment box below.