Polis wants Obamacare waivers for ski towns where premiums are high


Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder.

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DENVER — Just as a handful of swing state Democrats have begun to echo calls from Republicans to delay Obamacare’s individual mandate a year due to technical problems plaguing the federal and state health insurance websites, Rep. Jared Polis is now pushing for a more limited waiver for his constituents living in Colorado’s ski towns.

In the three weeks since the Colorado health insurance exchange went live, not a single Summit County resident has signed up and bought a new policy, according to a report Wednesday by Health Policy Solutions.

The reason: plans for people living in towns like Breckenridge, Vail and Aspen are way too expensive — premiums are roughly twice as high as they are for citizens living in other parts of the state.

“It’s not about the system, which is working as best as we can expect,” said Tamara Drangstveit, executive director of the Family and Intercultural Resource Center, which is leading efforts in Summit County to enroll people in new plans.

“People are hopeful for the reforms and how they’re going to work,” she continued. “The issue is just the cost. People can’t afford it.”

As the concerns arose, Polis met with Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar last week; but the two couldn’t find any solution that would lower premiums in Summit County right away.

Eventually, moving Summit County into another zone along with Jefferson County could cut those premiums in half.

But for now, Polis’s only real strategy is securing federal waivers for Summit County residents so they won’t have to pay the $95 penalty for failing to buy health insurance by March 31, 2014.

“The best thing will be whatever can be done to lower premiums right away, because we don’t want a bunch of people walking in the door, being unable to afford policies and being totally turned off by the process and walking away,” Drangstveit told FOX31 Denver Wednesday.

About a quarter of Summit County residents don’t have health insurance, many of them being young employees at ski resorts or hotels and restaurants that don’t offer full benefits or health care.

Colorado Republicans, who continue to beat up Democrats and the White House over technical problems with the online healthcare marketplaces that are making it harder for some people to browse and buy policies, cited Polis’s stance in calling for waivers across the board.

“We’re glad that Congressman Polis has seen the light,” said Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. “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.”

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