By Ann Imse
Colorado Public News
In Colorado, the decision to uphold the health care law is expected to mean nearly half a million uninsured Coloradans will gain coverage, beginning in January 2014.
Of Colorado’s 5.1 million total population, about 150,000 people on the lower end of the income range will qualify for free health care through Medicaid, according to an estimate for 2016 from Jonathan Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology analyst and supporter of the mandate.
For example, a single person would have to earn only $1,117 in a year to get Medicaid today; the law will change that to $14,856 or less. Families of four with incomes of up to $30,657 also will get free insurance through Medicaid beginning in 2014. These are all 2012 figures that may rise by 2014.
Gruber also estimated that, as part of the law, another 330,000 Coloradans will start buying their own insurance, with the help of subsidies or under pressure from mandate penalties.
About two-thirds of Coloradans with individual insurance are projected to receive subsidies of up to thousands of dollars a year, he wrote in a report for the Colorado Health Insurance Exchange.
Experts have been having trouble estimating how many Coloradans would be subject to the penalty. In addition, it’s impossible for economists to know how many people will choose to pay the relatively low penalty, rather than buy expensive health insurance.
However, under the new law about 320,000 to 370,000 Coloradans may be left without health insurance, if Gruber’s estimates are correct. This includes people who fall through the cracks, or object on religious grounds, or are not here legally.
For most people, little will change with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
“People that are covered right now will not notice a big difference,” said Dr. Mark Earnest of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “While the law is confusing, I think people will like what they see as the law gets implemented.”
A number of incentives should lower costs, increase access and improve quality, he said. “A large number of people who are uncovered right now will find they are covered.”
Upholding the law also means continuing the requirement that insurance companies regulated by the federal government spend at least 80 percent of individual clients’ premiums on their health care. That means 20 percent or less on administration and profit. For employer health plans, that’s cut to 15 percent.
In Colorado this summer, insurance companies are sending out $27.5 million in refunds for failing that test and keeping too much for themselves. The average rebate for 121,000 Colorado families is $227 this year, but some of that will go to employers who pay for insurance.
Small businesses will continue to get tax credits for health insurance under a fairly complex set of limitations. (Calculate if your business qualifies for the tax credit here: http://sageba.com/small-business-health-care-tax-credit-calculator/)