Colorado health plans among most expensive

Filed under: Health Care |

Colorado employers are reporting higher health plan costs than the rest the nation, according to a survey released by the Lockton Benefit Group.

The survey, while not scientific, is an “indication of the general employee benefit trends,” Lockton officials said.

In this years’ survey, Colorado employers reported an average increase in health plan costs of 13.5 percent compared to the prior years’ rate. Even after plan design changes, the rate of increase for 2007 is estimated to exceed 9 percent, more than twice the rate of inflation.

“The resulting plan changes place Colorado workers at a greater disadvantage in terms of higher deductibles, out-of-pocket expense and more significant premium cost sharing than their counterparts, nationally,” said Eric Hirschberg, senior vice president for Lockton in Denver.

Employers plan to increase employee contributions for both single and family coverage as a way to reduce their costs of coverage — a trend that creates more pressure on workers and might result in more working uninsured.

Mardi Gras event to benefit Flight for Life

The Penrose-St. Francis Health Foundation is hosting the third annual Mardi Gras celebration at 6 p.m. Feb. 16 at The Broadmoor.

The event benefits local Flight for Life programs and will feature cocktails, dinner, blackjack, poker, roulette, craps, caricature artists, live jazz and prizes. Guests are invited to wear Mardi Gras attire.

Money raised during this event will be used for maintenance and a storage hangar, currently under construction on the St. Francis Medical Center Campus at Woodmen Road and Powers Boulevard.

Flight for Life Colorado is a community resource, transporting patients to the most appropriate hospital along the Front Range and the western slope. The group assists many search and rescue agencies and offers specialized services, including aerial search support and avalanche rescue programs. The transport capabilities include the specialty areas of neonatal, high risk obstetrical, intra-aortic balloon pump and mountain rescue transports.

For tickets, call 776-7060.

Healthy baby campaign called a success

The El Paso County Department of Health and Environment says its latest campaign to decrease the number of low-birth-weight babies has been successful.

The campaign, “A Healthy Baby is Worth the Weight” was launched in October and ended Dec. 31. It included a media blitz, ranging from print and broadcast features to bus signs to public service announcements.

The Colorado State Health Department’s healthy baby Web site saw an increase of 45 percent between October and the end of the year. Web site visits surged from 10,240 hits during 2005 to nearly 29,000 hits in 2006, a 178 percent increase.

The campaign’s goal was to reverse the number of low-birth-weight babies, defined as infants less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces, by sending the message of appropriate maternal weight gain in tandem with healthy eating and lifestyle choices. Most women are encouraged to gain 2-5 pounds during the first three months and one additional pound per week throughout their pregnancy, for a net gain of 25-35 pounds.

In Colorado, nearly one in four women do not gain enough weight during pregnancy, and El Paso County has one of the highest low-birth-weight rates in the state and nation — representing nearly 10 percent of all deliveries. Underweight newborns are at an increased risk for severe illness, in addition to persistent health complications and long-term disabilities — including cerebral palsy, autism, and vision or hearing impairments.

Medicare Part D enrollment grows

More than 1.4 million beneficiaries have enrolled in Medicare’s Part D program since June 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, bringing the total number of people receiving prescription drug coverage to more than 39 million.

Dec. 31 marked the end of a 45-day open enrollment period, the second open enrollment period for Part D. Beneficiaries eligible for the low-income subsidy and those reaching the eligible age are for the Medicare program can enroll without penalty in 2007.

About 88.5 percent of all beneficiaries who enrolled in a prescription drug plan for 2007 chose a plan that offers coverage other than the standard benefit, such as no deductible or coverage in the “donut hole.” Most beneficiaries who enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans are also getting more comprehensive drug coverage than the standard plan.

Enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans has increased by more than 900,000, bringing the total number of beneficiaries enrolled to 8.3 million. Open enrollment for Medicare Advantage continues through March 31.

About 10 million low-income beneficiaries are getting comprehensive drug coverage for low or no cost, including 9.1 million who are enrolled in Medicare Part D.

Nearly 24 million beneficiaries are enrolled in Part D (PDP or MA-PD); 7 million retirees are enrolled in employer or union-sponsored retiree drug coverage that receives the Retiree Drug Subsidy; 3 million are in federal retiree programs such as Tricare and Federal Employees Health Benefits Plans; and 5 million are receiving drug coverage from alternative sources, including 2 million who have coverage through the Veterans’ Administration.

Amy Gillentine covers health care for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.