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11 Insurers Want To Play Ball In Colorado’s Marketplace

Corrected at 6:00 p.m. to reflect that 11 insurers, rather than 17 have submitted policies to sell in the state’s new online health insurance marketplace.  The larger number includes those proposing to sell both inside and outside the online marketplace.

Colorado became the latest state Wednesday to post proposed health insurance plans for its new online marketplace, which is slated to begin enrolling people in coverage Oct. 1.

What stands out is the number of plans being proposed.  A total of 11 insurers are seeking approval to market about 250 health plans to individuals and small groups  in the state’s online marketplace under the federal health care overhaul.

While Colorado regulators said they are encouraged by the number of carriers who want to participate—hoping competition will help keep down premium costs—it worries agents.

“I would say that number has to come down or people are going to be overwhelmed by the choices they have,” said Marie DeWolf, who runs an insurance agency in Greeley, Colo.

The online marketplaces are one of the key ways the health law expands coverage to millions of people not offered coverage by their employers. Consumers will be able to compare plans on the websites and find out whether they might be eligible for government subsidies to help defray the cost of premiums.

The Colorado marketplace called Connect for Colorado has not limited how many plans carriers can offer for each category of standardized coverage. Some other states, including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada, New York and Oregon, are limiting the number of plans each insurer can offer, according to Avalere Health, a consulting firm.

A few years after the federal government started the Medicare prescription drug program, it also limited the number of plans each carrier could offer in an effort to reduce consumer confusion.

Colorado Insurance Commissioner Jim Riesberg said a preliminary review shows that monthly proposed premiums for the new plans “vary widely,” depending on what portion of medical expenses the plan will pay and what portion consumers will be responsible for through co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs.

He also noted that some of the proposals do not meet the  requirements of the law.

“We are very encouraged by the number of health insurance carriers that want to participate in Colorado,” Riesberg said in a statement. “As the regulatory agency charged with ensuring a competitive marketplace for health insurance companies in Colorado, we believe that a greater number of carriers means more choice for Colorado residents.”

In the next two months,  he said his staff will examine the plans to make sure they meet new requirements for essential health benefits, such as hospitalization, maternity, newborn care and wellness services.  Plans must be certified as complying  with the law before they can be sold.