Colorado could see double-digit health insurance rate hikes if federal uncertainty lingers

Colorado’s insurance commissioner has sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation warning that individual health insurance rates could see double-digit percentage increases next year because of lingering debate around health reform efforts in Washington.

“Uncertainty around the individual insurance market for 2018 is making everyone nervous,” Commissioner Marguerite Salazar said in a statement Thursday. “And ultimately, this uncertainty is going to hurt Colorado consumers.”

In particular, Salazar said insurers are concerned about the funding for federal cost-sharing subsidies that help low-income people who buy their own plans to pay for deductibles and co-pays. The subsidies were part of the Affordable Care Act, though they are less well known than the tax credits that help people pay their monthly premiums. Republicans in Congress sued to block the subsidies, saying they were not properly authorized.

The Trump administration has not said if it will continue to fight for the subsidies, as the Obama administration did. Instead, President Donald Trump has suggested he could withhold money for the subsidies if Democrats won’t negotiate on health reform.

In her letter, Salazar said insurers offering plans on the individual market could be expected to raise rates 12 to 19 percent in Colorado next year if the subsidies are not funded.

“At the worst, carriers could decide to forego the increased risk and simply exit the individual market in Colorado, leaving consumers with fewer choices in carriers and plans,” Salazar wrote in the letter. “Using the CSRs as a bargaining chip is tantamount to gambling with Coloradans’ access to healthcare.”