Colorado Embraces Health Insurance Exchanges

fromCPR

Colorado has been moving to set up an insurance exchange since the health care law was passed. The government, insurance industry and the hospitals say they are glad their work over the last year has been worth it.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. When it comes to the federal health law, most states have taken a wait and see attitude about setting up insurance exchanges. Those are the marketplaces where consumers are supposed to shop for insurance and, if they qualify, get subsidies for coverage. Most states have resisted to committing to an exchange but there's a deadline coming up this Friday. Among the dozen or so states that have moved forward is Colorado. Eric Whitney of Colorado Public Radio has more.

ERIC WHITNEY, BYLINE: Last week's election results meant that Robert Ruiz-Moss, an executive at WellPoint Insurance in Denver, could heave a sigh of relief.

ROBERT RUIZ-MOSS: A sigh of relief in terms of a known. I think a known is always preferable to an unknown.

WHITNEY: The known he's talking about is that Colorado can continue full speed ahead on building its health insurance exchange. There's no longer uncertainty over how a President Romney might change the health care law or how Colorado might have to adapt.

RUIZ-MOSS: The scenarios that didn't occur are really hard to - hard to know for sure. You never know if that would've been a better scenario, a worse scenario. It would've been different but, you know, we know we've got the one in front of us.

WHITNEY: Ruiz-Moss is closely involved in setting up Colorado's health insurance exchange. He's a member of the bipartisan exchange governing board appointed by the governor and state lawmakers. They've been hard at it for the last 16 months, writing rules, hiring contractors and applying for federal grants.

Their goal is to create a new marketplace that's supposed to offer Colorado consumers more choices, lower prices and an easier way to shop for health insurance. And it's not just insurance companies that are happy that the elections appear to have green-lighted Colorado's exchange.

STEVEN SUMMER: I went for a general physical this morning and the doctor said, My God, your blood pressure's down. I said, Well, it must be the election. It's behind us and now we can move forward.

WHITNEY: Steven Summer heads the Colorado Hospital Association.

SUMMER: For people who are unable to afford health care insurance, it will be a way through subsidized access to health care. They'll be able to buy policies. So hopefully that population will - hundreds of thousands of people now will be able to get access to subsidized polices through the exchange.

WHITNEY: More people with health insurance means fewer unpaid hospital bills. So it's no surprise hospitals like anything that makes it easier for people to get coverage. But in Colorado, even some Republicans who hate Obamacare like that the state is setting up its own health insurance exchange.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE AMY STEPHENS: I believe Colorado knows how to do health better than the federal government.

WHITNEY: Amy Stephens is a Republican state lawmaker. Stephens co-sponsored the bill last year that put Colorado on the path to creating its own exchange. She took a beating for it from some members of her own party. But she continues to argue that Colorado was smart to take the federal health law's option to build its own health insurance exchange and not resist Obamacare entirely like other states. She says that gives Colorado more control over its destiny.

STEPHENS: And if we hadn't done anything, many, many people would be swept into this federal system that could frankly care less about them.

WHITNEY: Stephens still calls Obamacare in general a disaster, but her law setting up Colorado's health insurance exchange includes at least some Republican oversight over how it develops. That gives her some comfort, since Democrats won majorities in both the state House and Senate.

The health care industry here, as well as business and consumer groups, say there's still a lot of work to do for Colorado to establish an exchange that helps make health coverage more affordable. And there's no guarantee that it'll actually work as envisioned in the federal health care law. But at least for now there's broad consensus Colorado's on the right path.

For NPR News, I'm Eric Whitney in Denver.

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