Vail Valley Partnership CEO: Collaboration is key in lowering rural health care costs (column) | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley Partnership CEO: Collaboration is key in lowering rural health care costs (column)

Chris Romer
Vail Valley Partnership

Editor's note: This was sent from Vail Valley Partnership to Colorado Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on June 12, 2018.

Clearly, there is no "one size fits all" blueprint for success when addressing community issues such as health insurance costs. Colorado communities are diverse and face different challenges. In order to address our health care costs, communities must build on strengths, leverage available resources and respond to unique needs.

Working together is key to making meaningful change. Every community is different, and our approach to addressing health insurance costs and improving health outcomes will vary across Colorado. However, there is one constant we know: When people work together sharing vision and commitment, it can yield better results than working alone.

Our aging population, and an increasing demand for lower cost insurance projects across industry sectors, requires a concerted community approach to insurance products.

It is incumbent upon the community to continue to build a business-friendly environment, making Eagle County an attractive place to conduct business by creating an innovative health care group product that works for all stakeholders.

There are only two health insurance companies (payers) on the Affordable Care Act exchange (the number of payers has dropped each year since launch) — Kaiser Permanente and Anthem BlueCross BlueShield offer plans in our market.

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People want to stay local for their health care, but the individual market is increasingly limited and 80 percent of our business community consists of businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

We hope to implement a localized health care solution within Eagle County to support businesses by creating an environment that lowers health insurance costs for our residents and workforce in order to support our current and future workforce in a meaningful way and which also supports our local health care providers. Yet we continue to lack a willing partner from the state of Colorado.

Here's what current Colorado Insurance Commissioner Mike Conway said at a discussion in Summit County last month. From our perspective it's not a great comment, and not conducive to addressing our health care challenges in the high country.

Conway explained that the costs have always been high, and continue to be, but because of fragmentation in the health care market as well as instability due to providers backing out of certain markets, those costs get disproportionately spread to areas such as Summit (and Eagle) County. He similarly shot down ideas such as creating local health insurance co-ops or buying insurance across state lines.

"Local insurance compacts are nice in theory, but providing care is far, far too expensive for a small group to pay for," Conway explained. "And buying across state lines is great in theory too, but health care is not national, it's local."

Our question: Why?

This model has proven to work in other states such as Missouri, South Carolina and Wyoming. Is Colorado so different, or is the state bureaucracy so cumbersome that you are more interested in platitudes and finger-pointing than in problem solving? We certainly hope not.

Local providers are willing to work with local partners to provide local solutions — yet the state presents barriers to potential local solutions. We urge you to work with us as we work to provide local solutions to this community issue.

It is past time to allow rural communities to pioneer effective solutions instead of misguided legislation from the capitol — good intentions, but missing the mark.

We look forward to your engagement as we move forward.

Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com.