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Despite Uncertainties, Colorado Holding its Own on Health Coverage

Many seasonal jobs at Colorado ski resorts don't provide health coverage, and premiums can top $1,000 a month for high-deductible plans. (Getty Images)
Many seasonal jobs at Colorado ski resorts don't provide health coverage, and premiums can top $1,000 a month for high-deductible plans. (Getty Images)
October 12, 2017

DENVER -- In 2011, 16 percent of Colorado residents did not have health insurance, but by 2015 - after the rollout of the Affordable Care Act - that rate had dropped to just over 6 percent and is holding steady.

That's according to the 2017 Colorado Health Access Survey. Michele Lueck, executive director at the Colorado Health Institute, said the low rate shows the state has done a good job managing major changes in national health and social policy.

"We think that it's a significant achievement and accomplishment for the state that we have remained at this low uninsured rate,” Lueck said. "Almost 94 percent of us have health insurance here in the state of Colorado."

The survey, funded by The Colorado Trust, showed that the historically low rates included populations most at risk of being uninsured - including young people, Hispanic and low-income Coloradans.

But the state's success was not spread out evenly. In affluent Douglas County, just 1.4 percent of residents were without health insurance, while the uninsured rate in Denver was 9 percent, and reached as high as 13 percent in some rural parts of the state.

Lueck pointed out that in much of western Colorado there's only one private insurer in the marketplace, and premiums can top $1,000 a month - even for plans with high deductibles. She said the challenges are compounded by the high cost of living in communities near ski resorts and seasonal jobs that don't come with health benefits.

Lueck said affordability continues to be the main reason people can't access coverage.

"We have some of the highest health insurance premiums in the country to cover individuals and families, particularly on the Western Slope,” she said. "Even with the subsidies, even with the incentives that are provided, it's still unaffordable."

The survey found 1-in-10 Hispanic residents were uninsured in 2017, an improvement from 2009. By comparison, just 1-in-20 non-Hispanic whites lacked coverage. Lueck estimated nearly a quarter of those without health insurance are undocumented Coloradans.

She said as comprehensive as the ACA was, it didn't fully address the needs of all of the state's communities.

This story was produced with original reporting from Jaclyn Zubrzycki for The Colorado Trust.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO