Peak Health Alliance is up and running in Summit County. It will start offering plans in January 2020
FRISCO — The Peak Health Alliance, Colorado’s first-of-its-kind community health care purchasing collaborative founded in Summit County, started operations this month. The nonprofit’s sole mission is to bring down health insurance premiums for Summit County residents, who pay among the highest premiums in the nation.
Peak Health was formed as a response to the health costs crisis in the High Country, where premiums ballooned by as much as 30% year after year since the introduction of the state’s health care exchange marketplace in 2013. Peak Health was launched and originally funded by The Summit Foundation as a special initiative.
According to data compiled by Peak through transparency requirements instituted by the Affordable Care Act, Summit County residents pay 30% to 80% more for services than their Front Range neighbors.
Tamara Drangstveit, who formerly served as executive director of the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, has transitioned into her new role as CEO of Peak Health and is its only full-time employee.
Drangstveit has been busy getting Peak up and running over the past several weeks. Given the unprecedented nature of the venture, she has been creating her own path forward.
“Anytime you’re first, and you’re doing something new and different, there’s always some nervousness and doubt,” Drangstveit said. “But we have received general recognition that we had a crisis, and this strategy is going to be a big part of solving this crisis.”
Peak Health aims to lower premiums by leveraging the collective bargaining power of its members into a single negotiating bloc, then bargaining with providers for lower prices on certain services, such as emergency room costs, which are eight times higher in Summit County than they are on the Front Range. The negotiated price sheet is then presented to insurance carriers on which to bid.
Peak Health negotiated a price sheet with the county’s largest health provider and owner of the area’s only hospital, Centennial-based Centura Health, in April. In May, Grand Junction-based Rocky Mountain Health Plans was chosen as Peak’s carrier for employer group plans, and Minnesota-based Bright Health was chosen to be the individual insurance carrier.
When Peak starts offering plans in January 2020, members are expected to see insurance premiums significantly lower than what they have paid in the past. Plan offerings and prices have yet to be finalized as the state’s Division of Insurance must approve the rates Peak has negotiated with providers and insurers.
The savings offered from Peak plans are separate from the 29% savings created by the introduction of a reinsurance plan in the state, a temporary $260 million insurance pool that will cover excessively high individual claims for the next two years.
After the plans and rates are approved by the state, Peak Health’s next big task is to start signing people up to create a “critical mass” of membership that will bolster Peak’s negotiating power.
“Once the Division of Insurance has approved our plans, we will work with our insurance carriers to start selling those plans and helping people sign up for them,” Drangstveit said.
Jon Watson, president of individual and family plans for Bright Health, said the company was eager to get the partnership with Peak Health underway.
“It’s a marvelous opportunity, and we are so excited to work with Peak Health and its initiative,” Watson said. “It shows how government, business and providers can come together to solve a problem in the mountains. We’re looking forward to see it succeed.”
Drangstveit noted that the rapid rise of Peak — which started last year as an idea during an informal meeting with the state insurance commissioner — to a fully realized collaborative concept has gained praise and endorsement from the governor as a model the state should follow.
“We started Peak 18 months ago, and I am continually amazed at how many people have leaned into it and how much progress we’ve made since then,” Drangstveit said. “We are really grateful for all of that hard work.”