Viewpoint: AHCA’s impact on Grand County | SkyHiNews.com
John Riedel
Special to Sky-Hi News

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Viewpoint: AHCA’s impact on Grand County

Moving Mountains is a non-partisan, Grand County group of citizens dealing with issues that affect all of us in Grand County. One of the most important issues facing us today is the shift from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to the American Health Care Act (AHCA) passed by the House and currently under consideration by the U.S. Senate. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has reviewed the AHCA and, based on their findings, here's our take on how that shift would affect us.

The current ACA provides two ways that Grand County residents can get health care coverage on the individual market. One is through the Colorado Exchange, our State organization that provides access to health benefits provided by participating plans and that oversees the subsidies that are provided for people who can't afford coverage. The other is through the expansion of Medicaid.

In 2016, 869 Grand County residents bought insurance on the Exchange. Those who met low income guidelines received subsidies averaging $452/month. The Medicaid expansion program provides 884 of our neighbors with health care coverage. In other words, the ACA provided health care coverage for 1,753 residents of Grand County. With a Grand County population of 14,843 this means 11.8 percent (over one in ten) of our neighbors benefit from the ACA.

On the downside, we currently have only one health plan offering coverage in Grand County (Anthem Health Plan), and premiums for some residents rose at a rate that made coverage unaffordable.

The AHCA makes significant changes to this approach. The Exchanges will be terminated including the subsidies which helped many of our 869 residents afford coverage. The new law provides tax credits instead based on age rather than ability to pay. The AHCA also ends the Medicaid expansion program. This will result in the termination of coverage for 884 residents.

Pre-existing conditions will be handled through special high risk pools created by the states. These types of plans typically cost much more than traditional insurance because all of the highest cost users are lumped together. Plus, each state can opt to change the essential benefits offered by health plans. In other words, if Colorado chose to do so, it could limit coverage requirements for maternity care, mental health, substance abuse, and rehabilitative services.

Under the new law, insurers would be allowed to charge five times more for older participants. According to the CBO, this would reduce premiums for younger enrollees and substantially raise premiums for those 50 to 64 years old. In their analysis, CBO found that a 64 year old earning $26,500 a year would see their premiums increase by $11,900, going from $1,700 to $13,600 per year. With approximately 26 percent of Grand County residents in the 50-64 age category the impact would be dramatic.

Finally, insurance companies would be required to impose a 30 percent surcharge on people who were uninsured for more than 63 days. According to the CBO the surcharge would likely reduce the number of people who decide to purchase insurance because the cost would be too great to bear.

Moving Mountains believes that the coverage under the American Health Care Act will increase the number of uninsured residents in Grand County and decrease the level of health benefits available to them. We are closely watching to see how the Senate modifies the law. We urge you to stay educated on the changes in the AHCA and how it will impact you and your community.