Health insurance

Health insurance premiums can vary widely in Colorado depending on where you live — it's just one of the factors health insurance companies use to calculate prices. Mountain regions continue to have some of the highest premiums in the country. At the statehouse, House Bill 16-1336 [.pdf] would look at treating the entire state as one region, rather than continuing to group regions separately.

"Our current insurance payment of $1,508 a month is equivalent to our mortgage payment. We can't afford it," said Richard Backe, a Garfield County small-business owner. "There are numerous people in the mountain district with the same story. We are the healthiest counties in the state, and we have the highest insurance rates."

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Colorado residents have vastly different health outcomes, based in part on where they live in the state. Rocky Mountain PBS News analyzed health data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to rank each of the state's 64 counties based on a variety of health indicators from obesity, to amount of exercise, to smoking and premature deaths.

Butte is an old mining town, tucked away in the southwest corner of Montana with a population of about 34,000. Locals enjoy many things you can't find elsewhere — campgrounds a quick drive from downtown and gorgeous mountain ranges nearby. But in Butte, as in much of rural America, advanced medical care is absent.

People in Butte who experience serious trauma or need specialty care rely on air ambulance flights to get them the help they need.

Many Health Co-Ops Fold, Others Survive Startup Struggles

Nov 26, 2015

Thousands of Americans are again searching for health insurance after losing it for 2016. That's partly because some large, low-cost insurers — health cooperatives, set up under the Affordable Care Act — are folding in a dozen states.

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On Wednesday, the Census Bureau gave Obamacare some good news: the number of people without health insurance dropped to 10.4 percent in 2014, down from 13.3 percent in 2013.

Colorado may be doing even better. When the Affordable Care Act launched two years ago, about 1 in 7 of the state's residents, or 14 percent, were uninsured, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan Colorado Health Institute. That figure is now 6.7 percent, according to the organization's latest data.

The number of Coloradans who don't have health insurance has dropped by about half since President Barack Obama's signature health care law went into effect. The state's uninsured rate fell from 14.3 percent in 2013 to 6.7 percent in 2015. Not only does the Colorado Access Health Survey say that the uninsured are at a record low, it also finds that more people have enrolled in Medicaid.

The states that set up their own insurance marketplaces have nothing to lose in King v. Burwell, the big Supreme Court case that will be decided by the end of June. But that doesn't mean those states are breathing easy.

With varying degrees of difficulty, all of the state-based exchanges are struggling to figure out how to become financially self-sufficient as the spigot of federal start-up money shuts off.

Dana Lam was insured under her parent's health plan until the end of 2014, thanks to a provision of the Affordable Care Act that allows young adults to stay on family health insurance until they turn 26.

The arrangement worked out well until she needed treatment for depression. Lam knew that if she used her parents' health plan to see a psychotherapist or psychiatrist, her visit would show up on their insurance statements.

She wasn't ready to talk to them about her mental health issues. "I was just so afraid of having that conversation with them," she says.

Frances Stevens could have been a contender. She was training to be a Golden Gloves boxer and working as a magazine publisher in 1997 when 1,000 copies of the latest issue arrived at her San Francisco office.

"I'd just turned 30. I was an athlete. I had a job that I loved, a life that I loved," she recalls. "And in a second my life changed."

Got a high-deductible health plan? The kind that doesn't pay most medical bills until they exceed several thousand dollars? You're a foot soldier who's been drafted in the war against high health costs.

A total of 16.4 million non-elderly adults have gained health insurance coverage since the Affordable Care Act became law five years ago this month. It's a reduction in the ranks of the uninsured the the Department of Health and Human Services called historic.

Buying health care in America is like shopping blindfolded at Macy's and getting the bill months after you leave the store, Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt likes to say.

But an online tool that went live Wednesday is supposed to help change that, giving patients in most parts of the country a small peek at the prices of medical tests and procedures before they open their wallets.

Got a sore knee? Having a baby? Need a primary-care doctor? Shopping for an MRI scan?

In health insurance prices, as in the weather, Alaska and the Sun Belt are extremes. This year Alaska is the most expensive health insurance market for people who do not get coverage through their employers, while Phoenix, Albuquerque, N.M., and Tucson, Ariz., are among the very cheapest.

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Hilltop's Health Access, office
Laura Palmisano

Open enrollment for Colorado’s health exchange ends Feb. 15. If you need help figuring out coverage options there are enrollment centers across the state where you can get it.  

Hilltop’s Health Access site in Grand Junction is busy. It's 1 of 13 enrollment centers in the state.

People can come here to get help navigating Colorado’s insurance exchange.

Rhonda Lofing manages the site for Hilltop, a local nonprofit. Lofing is also a certified health coverage guide.

Connect for Health Colorado
connectforhealthco.com

According to the latest data, more than 100,000 Coloradans have sign up for private health insurance through the state’s exchange.  

Open enrollment for Connect for Health Colorado started last month.

As of Monday, more than 136,000 residents have signed up for coverage.

Breaking down those numbers, more the 27,000 people enrolled for Medicaid and 932 signed up for CHP+, the state’s health plan for low-income children and pregnant women.

The exchange has also seen more than 108,000 enrollments in private insurance plans.

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A Shots post earlier this week by NPR's John Ydstie detailed the "family glitch" in the Affordable Care Act. That's where people who can't afford their insurance at work aren't eligible for help in the new insurance exchanges. Many of these Americans, most of whom make middling incomes, will remain uninsured.

That story got us wondering: Who else is getting left out by health law? And who is getting coverage?

Diabetes is an expensive disease to treat, costing the United States $244 billion in 2012, according to an analysis of the disease's economic burden.

When the loss of productivity due to illness and disability is added in, the bill comes to $322 billion, or $1,000 a year for each American, including those without diabetes. That's 48 percent higher than the same benchmark in 2007; not a healthy trend.

The increase is being driven by a growing and aging population, the report finds, as well as more common risk factors like obesity, and higher medical costs.

Connect for Health Colorado
connectforhealthco.com

Open enrollment for Connect for Health Colorado, the state’s health insurance marketplace, started Saturday. The enrollment period ends Feb. 15.

“It’s important for Coloradans to know that if they want their coverage to begin on Jan. 1, 2015, they need to enroll, select a plan and conclude the process by Dec. 15,” says Linda Gann with Connect For Health on the Western Slope. 

The state exchange, which is separate from the federal marketplace, allows people and small businesses to purchase health insurance and apply for federal subsidies. 

NPR — along with seven public radio stations around the country — is chronicling the lives of America's troops where they live. We're calling the project "Back at Base." This is the latest in the ongoing series.

"There's been more advancement in the field of prosthetics since 1945 than there has been in the entire automobile industry," says Mark Vukov, a clinical education manager at College Park Industries, a manufacturer of prosthetic feet.

The second open enrollment season for health insurance offered through marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act is just around the corner. Are you ready?

Here's a quick checklist for people who don't get their health insurance at work and plan to shop for coverage on the health law's online exchanges. Enrollment starts Nov. 15, but you can start kicking the tires now.

Fall is enrollment season for many people who get insurance through their workplace. Premium increases for 2015 plans are expected to be modest on average, but the shift toward higher out-of-pocket costs overall for consumers will continue as employers try to keep a lid on their costs and incorporate health law changes.

A Gallup poll released Tuesday suggests the Affordable Care Act is significantly increasing the number of Americans with health insurance, especially in states that are embracing it. It echoes previous Gallup surveys, and similar findings by the Urban Institute and Rand Corp.

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