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State officials to meet Nov. 12 to discuss rural health insurance concerns

Contact: Robin Waters, Basalt Chamber, 970-927-4031

Nov. 9, 2015 - Colorado senators, state Division of Insurance representatives, hospital executives, Connect for Health managers and other decision-makers and influencers are convening in Basalt this week to discuss health insurance challenges facing rural communities.

The Basalt Colorado Rural Health Insurance Community Forum will be held this Thursday, Nov. 12 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Basalt Middle School, 51 School Street. The event, organized by the Basalt Area Chamber of Commerce, is free and open to the public.

The hasty planning of the event was prompted by the announcement in October that Colorado HealthOP, a lower-cost health insurance co-op, would no longer operate in 2016 and the looming Nov. 1 enrollment start date for 2016. The closure of HealthOP leaves 112,000 people, both inside and outside the exchange, as well as others whose policies are cancelled scrambling to secure new insurance coverage for 2016.

“Health insurance premiums in our community have risen and options have narrowed as major providers move out of the area and reduce plan diversity,” said Robin Waters, Basalt Chamber president. “This impacts both individuals and local small-business owners. While I hear heart-warming stories of people benefitted by tax credits, new provisions of the Affordable Care Act and group insurance programs, an inordinate number of people I talk to are worried and confused."

Statewide rates recently approved by the state Division of Insurance are set to surge an average of 11.7 percent, according to recent reports. Rural towns and Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties could see significantly higher increases.

“I’m a poster child for what’s happening this year,” said Jacque Whitsitt, Basalt mayor and owner of Basalt Fitness, who discovered that her individual health insurance policy will increase by 50 percent in 2016.

Waters said the immediate objective of the forum is to help valley residents understand the options available to them and how best to get coverage for 2016, to try to streamline information and reduce the anticipated load on the marketplace and local insurance agencies.

“The greater purpose of the forum is to tackle the inequities in coverage among Colorado counties and to bring important decision-makers and legislators together in rural Colorado to hear and respond to real-life experiences,” Waters said.

“We want our community voice to be heard in Denver and in Washington, DC,” she added, acknowledging the Division of Insurance, local hospitals, medical care providers and insurance brokers for their ready willingness to participate in the discussion.

Forum presenters include Vincent Plymell and Tom Abel of the Colorado Division of Insurance; State Senator Kerry Donovan; former State Senator Gail Schwartz; Larry Dupper, Valley View Hospital Chief Financial Officer; and Connect for Health Colorado West Slope Senior Manager Linda Gann. Event sponsors so far include Aspen Valley Hospital, Vectra Bank and Martin Insurance Group. Additional sponsors are needed to help defray the event costs, Waters said.

Waters credited encouragement and support from Donovan, Gann and Schwartz with giving her the confidence to move forward this ambitious undertaking in so short a time.

“The Affordable Care Act did not do in the high country what it did for the rest of Colorado. While thousands across the state got better health plans at more affordable rates, we continue to see that mountain communities face different challenges,” said Donovan, Colorado Senate District 5, who helped to organize the event. “That's why am working closely with the Basalt Chamber to bring resources to the Roaring Fork Valley and share the stories of what isn't working in the mountains with my congressional partners to find a solution.”

Waters encourages community members to attend the forum which will be held in the 450-seat auditorium of the Basalt Middle School, located off lower Two Rivers Road behind the police station. Attendees are asked to carpool and be prepared for a short walk to the school.

The forum will be followed by a Health Insurance Enrollment Fair on Nov. 14 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the El Jebel Community Center, 0020 Eagle County Drive.

Waters encourages those interested in the Health Insurance Forum and Enrollment Fair to check for updates on the Basalt Co Community Page on Facebook and to email personal stories to the Submissions will be provided to forum speakers.