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Rate Shock? Let’s Talk About It Later, Says Colorado Insurance Commissioner

Colorado is among the states getting their first glimpse of how much health insurance will cost under Obamacare in 2014.

Colorado’s insurance commissioner Jim Riesberg says he’s pleased with what he’s seen so far, but, “talking about rates at this point in time could lead to a lot problems in the future.”

Riesberg says that’s because the rates for the 749 insurance plans filed for next year in Colorado have not been analyzed and approved by his staff.  He is offering some illustrative sample rate information, and worries that it, and the prices health plans are requesting for 2014, will be misinterpreted.

“We’ve been contacted by the New York Times and Wall Street Journal,” as well as local media, Riesberg says, “and they all want to talk about rates, and my primary answer is: Let’s not.”

He then spent 33 minutes explaining what rate information is and isn’t available to Colorado’s health insurance exchange board. He is a non-voting member.

Riesberg said his office offers sample rates on its website, which say a 40-year-old non-smoker can expect a monthly premium of about $250 for a mid-level health plan. Rates range from $139 to $845 a month, going from skimpiest to most robust coverage.

Beyond the sample, the rates for all individual and small-group plans that insurance companies submitted to Colorado officials are publicly available on the site, too. But, “whatever numbers you now see are not the right numbers, are not the numbers that will be approved,” Riesberg said.

He said his staff has already found mistakes or problems with plans submitted, like several asking their oldest customers to pay more than three times the rates for their youngest. That is specifically forbidden in the health law. Insurance companies will have some ability to modify their planned rates to meet regulatory approval.

Riseberg is supposed to issue a list of approved plans by July 31, but even then, how much a person pays for coverage will still depend on a lot of variables. And comparing the price of health insurance under the federal health law next year to what they’re paying now,“will never be an apples-to-apples comparison, because every plan that was submitted is new and has not been on the market before.”

The big change? Guaranteed issue. Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurers can no longer deny a person a policy because they have a pre-existing condition. When it comes to prices in 2014, plans can only charge more based on whether beneficiaries smoke, where they live, and their age.

Riesberg says it’s frustrating to hear Obamacare critics saying policies will be more expensive under the federal law.

“Some television program … had some insurance expert who was talking about the 300 percent increases in the cost of insurance,” under Obamacare, Riesberg said, “15 days before the first plan had ever even been filed.”

Riesberg is also worried Coloradans will see sample prices for insurance and not recognize that they may pay less for premiums because anyone making less than about $44,000 a year will be eligible for subsidies to help them buy insurance. Still, depending on what kind of coverage they choose, they could have to cough up significantly more in co-pays and deductibles.

The commissioner, a fan of the Affordable Care Act who voted for steps to implement it as a state legislator before taking office, implored the board that will control the exchange to “continue to share the positive message, and not let people get dragged down into some rate that they saw somewhere.”

The board is working on providing a calculator on its website to allow people to enter their age, smoking status and location and get selection of prices for approved plans, and learn how much subsidy they may qualify for. It’s expected to be available no later than Oct. 1.