Local insurance group formed
For members of the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau, it’s a case of hanging together so it will be cheaper than hanging alone. For rural insurance, the new program may provide a glimpse of the shape of things to come. It is scheduled to kick off Jan. 1.
“This one has me personally excited,” said Brian Crary, president of Colorado PacifiCare, the insurer for the group. “Currently, rural Colorado is really struggling with finding solutions to high quality, affordable health care insurance.”
PacifiCare insures 3.4 million individuals and businesses in eight Western states.
The plan is part of a new Vail Valley Chamber Health Care Plan being offered to members of the chamber and tourism bureau, their employees and dependents. Price increases for health insurance outpaced virtually all other individual expenses. Health insurance is often the key employee benefit offered by employers.
The new plan is a bulk discount. Its cost is based on a group policy provided to VVTCB members, and by the size of the potential employer/employee pool in the area. The cost of individual plans will be determined by the standard factors such as age, sex, type of job and other factors.
Thirty-two months in the making, the plan may be the first of its kind in Colorado offered by a chamber-like organization, said Robin Litt, business services manager for the tourism bureau.
“We negotiated discounts with the valley’s large health care providers, which has helped bring down the cost of the premiums,” Litt said.
Premiums could also be lower because Eagle County’s population may be healthier than the average population covered in most areas, said Randy Herndon, senior vice president of Aon Consulting, which provides consulting and administration for the new plan.
“Your lifestyle in your community may be better than other areas,” Herndon said. “Rates are predicated on the averages. We’re designing a plan design geared to the type of employers and employees in the Vail Valley.”
That level of focus might be a taste of things to come, said PacifiCare’s Crary. And unlike traditional insurance pools, the insurer will share information on how the plan is working.
“PacifiCare will provide information on how the plan is performing,” he said. “That’s one of the key aspects that makes this unique.”
Herndon said the health care providers here “really stepped up to the plate” by providing more competitive rates to employers.
The new plan treats participants as one big group, Herndon said.
Litt said 3,000 people could participate in the plan the first year, with two or three times that in succeeding years. The insurer will be PacifiCare.
Getting to this point wasn’t easy, said Kim Wolfe, vice president of human resources for Slifer Designs, who helped develop the plan.
“It was one step forward and two steps back,” said Wolfe. “We ran up against legislation designed to protect the health car insurers. The regulations for small groups are so difficult. That’s the biggest hurdle we’ve been working through.”
Eventually Wolfe said the local group pushing to create the Vail Valley insurance group was able to create a program that was acceptable to insurers and the state insurance board.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the team that worked on it,” she said.
Like most health insurance policies, this too, has its share of regulations. A series of informational meetings for employers and employees who want to enroll in the program will be held.
Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or firstname.lastname@example.org