More businesses can now shop for health insurance within the state’s small-business marketplace, and it is a step aimed at helping to boost enrollment in the group plans and control prices.
Currently, 377 small businesses provide health insurance for their employees through Connect for Health Colorado’s small-business health-insurance marketplace, set up under the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.
About 3,000 employees who work for these businesses are covered statewide, said Luke Clarke, a spokesman for the exchange. In comparison about 155,034 people bought individual insurance through the marketplace. Data for La Plata County was not immediately available.
By changing the guidelines for enrollment, the exchange hopes to see a boost in numbers, Clarke said.
Since the exchange opened in October 2013, the small-business marketplace was available only to businesses with fewer than 49 employees. But on Jan. 1 it became available to businesses with up to 99 employees.
Now that insurance brokers can offer options through the exchange to larger companies, it will be more profitable to sell policies offered by the exchange, said Tim Gaudette the Colorado outreach manager for the Small Business Majority. His advocacy group has been working to educate businesses about their options through the exchange.
“(Insurance) brokers are going to pay more attention,” he said.
Greater enrollment also spreads the risk the insurance companies are taking among more people, and that helps control costs, he said.
However, La Plata County and other rural areas in Colorado still face higher costs for health care and therefore higher insurance premiums than people in other parts of the state.
For example, a man on the Western Slope could pay $446 on his premium through the health exchange. While a man with similar health habits could pay $259 in Colorado Springs, according to 2012 data from the Center for Improving Value in Health Care.
The small businesses are also likely paying more for care in rural areas because there are fewer hospitals and clinics competing with one another, he said.
This is a concerning trend for Roger Zalneraitis, the executive director of the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance, because it could deter businesses from locating in Southwest Colorado and even encourage businesses to move away.
For example: A small business could move to Colorado Springs and buy similar insurance for their employees and save $100,000 on health care per year, he said.
“As long as costs for health care go up faster than inflation, it makes our high premiums a challenge for retaining and hiring employees – and therefore growing your business,” Zalneraitis said.