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Dem congressman to seek Obamacare waiver for ritzy Colorado ski towns

Greg Campbell
Contributor

Obamacare premiums are too costly for ski country. Democratic Rep. Jared Polis plans to ask for a waiver from the federal government for people in Summit County who can’t afford insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

No one in Summit County has signed up for Obamacare, according to Tamara Drangstveit, who is helping lead efforts to enroll uninsured people through Colorado’s new health insurance exchange website.

That’s because the cost, when compared to other areas of the state, is astronomical. Plans vary in cost by as much as $400 based solely on where people live, according to the Health Policy Solutions website.

The same plan that costs $232 per month in Greeley costs $667 per month in Summit County, the site reported.

“People take one look at the rates and they walk out the door,”  Drangstveit told the site. “We had really hoped that (the marketplace) would bring down rates. Sadly, that’s not what we’re seeing. People just can’t afford it. Their incomes are already squeezed too tight.”

Summit County is home to pricey ski resorts like Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper Mountain and Arapahoe Basin and is among the most expensive places in Colorado to live. Health Policy Solutions reported that most year-round residents spend up to 50 percent of their income on housing. They also pay more for staples like gas and food. Many people who work in the service industry — such as bartenders and ski lift operators — work more than one job to make ends meet.

Because of these factors, Summit County has a higher percentage of uninsured people than in other areas of the state, about 25-30 percent. For years, Aspen — where the median home price is $2.9 million — has had the highest percentage of uninsured people in Colorado.

In a letter to Colorado insurance commissioner Marguerite Salazar, Polis wrote that wealthy homeowners who don’t live in Summit County full time distort the figures used to set premium rates.

“Summit County is already home to a higher-cost-of-living and greater proportion of uninsured population than other parts of the state,” he said.

“We will be encouraging a waiver,” he told Health Policy Solutions. “It will be difficult for Summit County residents to become insured. For the vast majority, it’s too high a price to pay.”

In a statement released on Wednesday, Colorado Republican Committee Chairman Ryan Call praised the decision, but said that it doesn’t go far enough — everyone, he said, should get a reprieve from what he called the “train wreck” of Obamacare.

“We’re glad that Congressman Polis has seen the light,” Call said. “However, it’s not just Coloradans in ski towns who need to be saved from the Obamacare train wreck. Working families, small business owners, senior citizens and young people across Colorado are struggling to pay their bills and they should all be saved from Obamacare’s high price tag.”

“The Colorado Republican Committee calls on Congressman Polis, Sen. Mark Udall and the rest of Colorado’s congressional delegation to treat every Coloradan fairly and seek an Obamacare waiver for everyone,” he said.

In the letter to Salazar, Polis asked for Summit County to be included in a less-expensive geographic area for the sake of calculating premiums. Such a move could cut premiums by as much as 50 percent, he told Health Policy Solutions.

But it’s not likely to happen any time soon — geographic areas are set until 2015. Drangstveit said she’s worried that people won’t bother to sign up a year from now after being scared off by sticker shock this year.

“Who knows if they’re going to come back?” she said. “To me the best solution is one we can do most quickly. I would hate to discourage what could be hundreds of thousands of people signing up. It’s not an easy process.”

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