Colo. moves to avoid insurance premium hikes

Officials in Colorado announced Monday that they will reduce the number of geographic divisions in the state's health insurance market, a move likely to soften premium increases next year. 

The shift from 11 to nine geographic rating areas in Colorado means consolidating four rural risk pools into two for the 2015 enrollment season.

The change will increase the number of people the region's insurance companies use to price their policies. Additional people will broaden the risk for insurers and lessen the need for price hikes on ObamaCare's exchanges.

Colorado Commissioner of Insurance Marguerite Salazar thanked the Obama administration for approving the proposal, which state officials submitted less than two weeks ago.

"These larger rating areas spread the risk and costs of healthcare over a larger population," Salazar said in a statement. "This is the most equitable way of working toward stable premiums in all regions in the state."

The move highlights the power of state insurance commissioners in how premiums are determined. In addition to deciding rating areas, officials in many states have the power to veto insurer-proposed rate hikes.

Any considerable price increases on ObamaCare's exchanges will become a political weapon for Republicans as the midterm campaign cycle heats up. In Colorado, Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallColorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open Energy issues roil race for Senate Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium MORE (D) is facing a challenge from Republican congressman and frequent ObamaCare critic Cory GardnerCory GardnerGOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase GOP to Obama: Sanction Chinese entities to get to North Korea Politicians share pup pics for National Dog Day MORE.

Insurers serving the state now have until June 6 to submit their premiums, an extension from the original deadline of May 15. Companies will need to calculate new prices based on adjustments to the rating areas.