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Got health care questions? Agencies provide answers

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Marguerite Salazar

Small business owners and managers who have questions about the new federal health care law and health care exchange can get answers from the state agency that regulates the insurance industry.

Meanwhile, assistance is available to consumers from “guides” working out of new offices Hilltop Community Resources has set up in Grand Junction.

The Colorado Division of Insurance continues to play a role in new health care law by offering assistance to businesses and individuals, said Marguerite Salazar, the newly appointed state commissioner of insurance. “They need to know what the options are.”

While the division always has assisted business owners and managers who have questions about insurance, that service has become even more important now that the  Connect for Health Colorado health insurance exchange has opened, Salazar said. Discussing the situation in a telephone interview with the Business Times the day after the exchange opened Oct. 1, Salazar said the initial response has made for a “hectic” pace.

The division reviewed and approved 242 health care plans offered on the exchange, Salazar said, placing Colorado among the top 10 percent of states offering the most plans through the new exchanges established under the Patient and Affordable Care Act.

For starters, the Division of Insurance can help businesses calculate their number of full-time equivalent employees under the new health care law, Salazar said.

Businesses with less than the equivalent of 50 full-time employees aren’t subject to the provision of the health care law requiring them to offer insurance to employees or pay fines, she said. For businesses with more than 50 employees, enforcement of the so-called “employer mandate” has been delayed a year.

At the same time, though, small businesses are eligible for tax credits for providing insurance to employees, Salazar said. In fact, the credit can be applied retroactively to 2010 for small business owners who want to amend their tax returns.

Moreover, many small business owners have questions about insurance plans they’re considering for themselves, she added. What do the various plans offered through the exchange cover? What health care providers are available? What are the deductible and co-payment levels?

People who buy insurance through the exchange have until Dec. 15 to sign up for coverage that will begin on Jan. 1, Salazar said. The open enrollment period will continue through March 31.

While there’s been a lot of confusion about the new health care law and health care exchanges, Salazar said the law and exchanges simply establish a process in which people continue to buy insurance from private companies. “It’s simply buying insurance. That’s all we’re doing.”

Meanwhile, Hilltop Community Resources offers free assistance to consumers through Hilltop’s Health Access.

Hilltop received funding to set up a certified assistance site for Connect for Health Colorado and employees have been trained to serve as “guides” in answering questions, evaluating various health care plans, exploring available financial assistance and applying for coverage.

Hilltop’s Health Access has set up an office at 602 Bookcliff Ave. in Grand Junction and soon will open additional offices in Delta and Gunnison.

Rhonda Lofing, a health access manager with Hilltop’s Health Access, said  guides can help people over the telephone or in person.

Lofing said some people believe the new health care law isn’t in force because of the federal government shutdown or provisions of the law have been delayed. Others aren’t certain about how to use the exchange. “There’s just a lot of confusion about how to proceed,” she said.

But that’s precisely why Hilltop’s Health Access has been set up, Lofing said. “We’re here to help people.”


For assistance from the Colorado Division of Insurance, call (800) 930-3745 or log on to www.dora.colorado.gov/healthinsurance. For assistance from Hilltop’s Health Access, call 244-0850 or visit www.HilltopsHealthAccess.org.

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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