- Associated Press - Friday, May 9, 2014

DENVER (AP) - Colorado has a plan to reduce health insurance premiums in the nation’s most expensive geographic zone.

The state Division of Insurance announced a proposal Friday to eliminate a mountainous zone dubbed the “Resort” region because it includes the ski resorts of Aspen and Vail. Instead, those four mountain counties would join other rural areas in western Colorado.

The change would reduce premiums slightly in Garfield, Eagle, Pitkin and Summit counties. But it would mean health insurance premiums on the individual market would go up slightly in other areas of western Colorado. Mesa County would continue to be its own rating area.

Two eastern Colorado regions would also join under the plan, from Sedgwick County in northeast Colorado to Baca County in the southeastern corner or the state.

Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar said the nine rating areas would be the fairest way to blunt sky-high premiums in the “Resort” area. “This is the fairest way of addressing the issue and working toward stable premiums in all regions of the state,” Salazar said in a statement Friday.

It’s too soon to know exactly how premiums would change in those areas once federal authorities approve the shift. Insurers haven’t yet turned in proposals for 2015 pricing, when the change would take effect.

The “Resort” area was named the nation’s most expensive by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. In this part of the state, the cheapest mid-level plan is $483 a month. In Denver, the same plan is about $280 a month. The gap narrows for customers who qualify for subsidies under the new health law.

The new health care law doesn’t allow insurers to use health conditions to set premiums. Insurers may use only three criteria for setting premiums - age, tobacco use and geography.

One of the chief critics of Colorado’s health-insurance zones, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, favored the nine-area plan earlier this week.

“I am hopeful that this change will bring down the staggering premiums” faced by people the “Resort” region, wrote Polis, whose district includes part of the region.

Joining the four counties would be most of western Colorado excluding Mesa County. Jackson, Moffat, Gunnison and Montezuma counties would all be in the new rural western Colorado region.

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Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt

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Online: Description of the new zones: http://1.usa.gov/1itD1TD