Commentary

For Coloradans, health literacy more important than ever

Insurance companies are changing their policies when it comes to COVID-19

October 28, 2021 4:45 am

A woman consults with her doctor online on her laptop. (Getty Images)

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted millions across the country, and Colorado has not been spared. Most health insurance companies have waived COVID-19 related costs, but the state’s complex health care system and uncertainty around medical care during the pandemic has created a noticeable increase in surprise bills for many Coloradans.

Even before the pandemic, research showed that more than half of Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance had delayed or postponed recommended treatment for themselves or a family member in 2020 due to cost. Now, as insurers continue to make billions while rolling back services like COVID-19 coverage, it has never been more crucial for Coloradans to take the time and examine what different health plans do and do not cover. Health insurance practices are changing, and Coloradans need to be prepared.

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With open enrollment beginning Nov. 1 for many Coloradans, it is vital that consumers be aware of the potential pitfalls that exist, including changes to COVID-19 coverage, surprise medical bills and junk health plans that fail to cover preexisting conditions. October marks Health Literacy Month, and Consumers for Quality Care is helping Americans to understand their options for selecting health insurance coverage and making sure they know the details of the health care plans they are selecting.

Already, insurance companies are changing their policies when it comes to COVID-19. Nearly three-quarters of the largest health plans across the country are ending their COVID-19 cost-sharing waivers, a move that will only harm patients. Health care costs are continuing to rise for Coloradans, with the Kaiser Family Foundation estimating that between 2 million to 3 million Americans lost their employer-based health insurance between March and September of 2020.

Consumers should not have to deal with crushing medical debt, especially during a pandemic that has caused unprecedented job loss and income reduction.

Consumers should not have to deal with crushing medical debt, especially during a pandemic that has caused unprecedented job loss and income reduction. It has never been more important to weigh the options and take considerable care when choosing a health plan. Telehealth has become a lifeline for many Americans during COVID-19, including those in Colorado. The Biden administration has invested $19 million to boost telehealth in rural and underserved areas like much of Colorado — an incredibly necessary move to remedy inequalities in the health care system exacerbated by the pandemic. Some insurers are already rolling back coverage for this essential tool, which has proven to have profound benefits even beyond the pandemic, particularly in rural and underserved communities who often lack easy access to health care services. When selecting a health plan, consumers should understand how services like telehealth will be covered, and if they will be covered at all.

Surprise medical bills continue to be a major problem for Coloradans. In one instance, an uninsured Colorado man was charged $2,000 out-of-pocket for expenses related to equipment use, prescriptions, lab work, and X-rays while seeking care for COVID-19. Even when they do their due diligence, consumers are still getting stuck with large, unexpected bills. Legislation passed by the U.S. Congress last year will protect many Americans from surprise billing starting next year, but details of the law are still being developed. With many uninformed or in the dark about this ongoing legislative battle, consumers should always check if a provider is in-network and closely examine all medical bills before paying them.

With an estimated one-third of COVID-19 survivors identifying as having lasting effects from the virus, consumers in Colorado must be wary of junk health plans like short-term limited-duration insurance plans, which often exclude coverage of preexisting conditions. Coloradans looking to save on health care costs should avoid STLDIs, which entice consumers with lower premiums but often leave them without adequate coverage when they need it most.

Between millions of families losing health insurance and the threat of decreased telemedicine coverage that so many Coloradans rely on, now more than ever, lawmakers, state insurance commissioners, insurers and hospitals need to address rising health care costs and ensure all Americans can access the quality, affordable care they need and deserve. In the meantime, Consumers for Quality Care urges Coloradans to carefully examine their health insurance options during 2021’s open enrollment so they can make the best possible decision for themselves and their families.

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Donna Christensen
Donna Christensen

Donna M. Christensen served nine terms as a Democrat from the Virgin Islands in the U.S. House of Representatives and was the first female physician elected to serve as a House member. She now serves on the board of directors of Consumers for Quality Care.

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