health care costs

Prices are on the decline for the first time in six years for policies available through Colorado's health insurance marketplace, Connect for Health Colorado said Wednesday. Open enrollment begins Friday.

For the first time since the state's health exchange opened in 2013, premiums are expected to be lower than the year before Friday, when open enrollment in the health plan begins.

Connect for Health Colorado said more savings could still be found by shopping around. 

Connect for Health CEO Kevin Patterson told reports Wednesday night here might be options this year that could trim 15 to 30% off renewal notices.

While the open enrollment runs through Jan. 15, customers must sign up by Dec. 15 to have coverage on Jan. 1, Connect for Health said.

Savings is the buzzword of the moment in Colorado government when it comes to the high cost of health insurance.

Democrats in the Colorado legislature and Gov. Jared Polis have made reducing insurance costs in Colorado a priority.

RELATED: Polis unveils Colorado public-option insurance program

Among the solutions has been a reinsurance pool for those with the highest cost medical needs, which reduces premiums for everyone else. High country communities already are forming new cooperatives to band together for group rates, along with such measures as capping the cost of insulin and launching an investigation into why insulin prices skyrocketed in recent years. Ahead, Colorado hopes to import cheaper drugs from Canada, to reduce costs.

This month Polis announced a state-provided option that's expected to offer premiums between 9 and 18% cheaper than what will be offered elsewhere in 2022, according to a draft of the plan.

"There's a number of things that are important to get ready for this particular open enrollment," Patterson said Wednesday morning. "There have been a number of different policy and political issues that have happened in the context of it."

The state health exchange was created by the Colorado legislature in 2011 to comply with President Obama's Affordable Care Act. The exchange expects 55% of its customers who receive government financial help to be able to get individual coverage in 2020 for $50 a month or less. During the enrollment period, those who earn up to about $50,000 annually — or a family of four with an annual income of up to $103,000 — can qualify for help with their coverage through the state insurance marketplace. 

Patterson "active shopping" critical for customers. There are eight insurers offering a combined 130 health plans through the exchange next year.

"We want to make sure people are looking at their options, depending on how the math works for the advanced premium tax credit," Patterson said.

He said the insurance marketplace's revamped website has tools to help Coloradans figure out their best deal, based on how much they use it and the tax credits that are available, rather than simply allowing their coverages to renew passively.

Patterson talked about a revamp of the marketplace website, the first since its launch "to make it easier for customers and our sister brokers to navigate," based on what customers have searched for in the past.

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