Colorado Selects Kaiser Permanente As Its Benchmark Health Insurance Plan

Last December, HHS made it clear that they were giving states a lot of flexibility in determining what plan would serve as the benchmark for the state’s “essential benefits” for individual and small group health insurance policies that would be sold starting in 2014.

After months of consideration, Colorado has selected Kaiser Permanente’s small group plan as a benchmark.  This is the largest small group plan in the state, with almost fourteen thousand members, and was selected by a group of officials from the Colorado Division of Insurance, the Governor’s office, and the health benefits exchange.  The Division of Insurance will be taking comments until next Monday before making a final announcement, and you can contact them by email ( if you’d like your comments to be considered.

The Kaiser plan covers services in the ten areas that are required by the PPACA (ambulatory patient services, emergency care, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse services, prescription medications, rehabilitative services, lab work, preventive care/disease management, and pediatric care), which means that it will serve as a benchmark for services in those areas without the DOI having to add additional coverage minimums.  In addition, the Kaiser plan was generally considered to be a good balance between comprehensive coverage and affordable coverage.  It’s not the most comprehensive policy out there (the much maligned “Cadillac plans” offer more benefits), but it provides a good level of coverage and – unlike the Cadillac plans – it’s affordable.

So as of 2014, all individual and small group plans sold in Colorado will have to offer benefits that are roughly equivalent to – or better than – the benefits provided by the Kaiser Permanente plan.  HHS gives states and insurance carriers some flexibility in terms of the exact details of the benefits and the ability to modify plans as time goes on.  But overall, individual and small group plans will provide at least the level of benefits offered in Kaiser plan.

The individual Colorado health insurance carriers we work with (including Kaiser Permanente) are the ones we’ve deemed reputable and stable, so many of the plans they offer are already good enough that they will require very few significant changes in order to be compliant as of 2014.  The essential benefits rules and the Kaiser benchmark will probably have more of an impact in the limited-benefit market and on plans that have traditionally been sold by having the insureds select which benefits they want to include (MEGA, Alliance, United American) rather than just providing basic across-the-board coverage.

Now that insurers know which plan has been selected, they can begin working to make whatever changes and enhancements will be necessary to have their policies be compliant by January 2014.  These basic standards won’t change much about the better plans that are currently available, but they’ll help to bring some of the not-so-great plans up to par or remove them from the market.  Either way, it should be beneficial for consumers.

About Jay Norris

Jay operates a health insurance brokerage in Colorado, where he helps individuals and small groups obtain and maintain health insurance coverage.
Complimenting his work as a health insurance broker, Jay also provides data analysis and creates visualizations that are easily understood by consumers and other stakeholders in Colorado’s health insurance market.


  1. Which of Kaiser’s plans was chosen and does this mean that chiropractic care will not be covered within the Exchange?

  2. Patti,
    Thanks for the question. It prompted us to write another post with more detail here:
    “The 2011 Colorado health insurance plan description for the Kaiser policy is here: Chiropractic care is listed as “not covered” on the plan description form (item number 30).”

    Let me know if you have any other questions.

  3. Since chiropractic care is cheaper and provides better outcomes for patients why won’t it be covered? Isn’t that what the PPACA was passed for – Cost savings and healthy outcomes?

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