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Healthy input 

To this point, state Senate Bill 200 has probably been best known locally as the measure that divided Monument Rep. Amy Stephens, the bill's sponsor, from the most anti-"Obamacare" members of her Republican Party. But the exchange, signed into law in June, actually exists as more than a political issue.

As put by Myung Oak Kim, Colorado Health Benefit Exchange communications and outreach manager, it's meant to "increase access, affordability and choice for individuals and small employers purchasing health insurance in Colorado."

Kim says the exchange, essentially a marketplace for health insurance, is slated to open by October 2013, with plans effective in 2014. Before then, however, nearly every aspect of how the exchange will operate — from how it deals with insurance companies, how it presents the plans to the public, to how it will eventually generate revenue — needs to be ironed out.

That's where the Colorado Public Interest Research Group comes in. Working in partnership with Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and Colorado Center on Law and Policy under a $100,000 grant, CoPIRG is helping host forums across the state, to gather input from Coloradans on what they want to see in the exchange.

Thursday, two of these forums are scheduled to take place in the Springs.

Danny Katz, state director of CoPIRG, says his organization is worried that the Health Benefit Exchange Board of Directors is limited by its resources, and "that the folks who are putting together the details won't have much time to actually get out into the community and talk with people about how this can best be set up." So CoPIRG is hoping to "fill this void" by collecting information to present to the exchange's nine-member board.

According to a recent survey by the Colorado Trust, 1.5 million Coloradans — more than 1 of every 4 — are under- or uninsured. And as Katz points out, the process of finding, comparing and then purchasing insurance on your own, or for a small company that doesn't have a human-resources representative, "can be hard and challenging. It can be very difficult to make apples-to-apples comparisons between health plans." On its website, CoPIRG imagines the exchange as "a one-stop shop for individuals and small businesses to shop for health insurance — think of Expedia or Travelocity."

At the forums, CoPIRG is asking attendees to answer questions such as: "Should individuals who work for or work with health insurance companies be allowed to sit on the Health Benefit Exchange Board and make decisions?" and "If you were eligible for government services such as food stamps, would you want the Health Benefit Exchange to inform you and connect you to websites so you could enroll in those programs?"

There are also questions as to the structure of the exchange: how it ought to be marketed; how it ought to be funded; how it ought to provide information and assistance.

"This is an open process," Kim says, "and we welcome input from consumers, small employers and all stakeholder groups across Colorado."

chet@csindy.com

  • Group wants you to help construct the state's 'one-stop shop for health insurance.'

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