Chamber’s health plan needs enrollees |

Chamber’s health plan needs enrollees

Robin Litt

Rarely a day goes by when the national headlines don’t include something about the crisis surrounding the rising costs of health care and insurance in our country. Similarly, in polls of Vail Valley businesses owners, health insurance has been the top issue for at least the past five years. Vail Valley business owners recognize that offering health insurance to their employees is not only a competitive advantage; it is becoming the expected norm. However, the rising costs of health insurance have made offering it to employees increasingly difficult for Vail Valley business owners.That’s why the Vail Valley Chamber & Tourism Bureau started working to create an affordable health care solution for local businesses almost five years ago. No, we didn’t set out to right national trends. Nor did we think we could overcome them entirely, even on a small, local scale. Our goal was to create a buying network of local employers who could together have more power to negotiate than they would independently. Didn’t Sam’s Club and Costco use this philosophy, too? If you buy a dozen of something, you can do better than if you buy just one. This theory applies to tires, apples and health insurance, too, right? Now, with just a little over a year under our belts with the Vail Valley Chamber Health Plan, we can step back and see how things are going. This effort has proved to be much more challenging than we ever expected. I have personally learned more about the health insurance industry than I ever thought I’d want to know! So far we’ve seen some modest but encouraging results for the innovative program. Eighty local businesses are currently enrolled. At last estimate, the plan saved them a collective $350,000 in 2004. More importantly, we also know that 10 percent of those enrolled in the plan didn’t previously provide insurance to their employees. That’s a great feat, working against the national trend that more and more people are uninsured.The Chamber Health Plan was created with Vail Valley businesses in mind. We developed three unique plans that can be accessed through local brokers and PacifiCare, our insurance partner. The plans are basic, so we could realize cost-savings for local businesses. We are actively working with PacifiCare and the local medical community to maintain better long-term discounts, also bringing premiums down. With tremendous supporters at the Steadman Hawkins Clinic and the Vail Valley Medical Center, this has been achieved. Lastly, we actively manage the group. That means we are provided with regular data on the use of the plans so we can proactively negotiate rates with our provider. Sounds like we have laid the groundwork, right? Now, reality sets in. All of this is much harder than just placing the puzzle pieces in place and stepping back. Although rates are slightly better in the Chamber Health Plan than what is available on the street and rates are more stable, growth in the plan has been less than impressive. The success of the Chamber Health Plan is in the numbers. The more businesses that participate, the better the plan will achieve its two underlying goals: stability and savings. With only a few hundred people in the plan, a few big claims can make this challenging at best.The bottom line is that we can have strength in numbers. We need the numbers – enrollment – to get us there. This will bring more affordable and attainable health insurance to our community. Robin Litt is the vice president of partnership for the Vail Valley Chamber & Tourism Bureau. Vail, Colorado

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