Step in the right direction |

Step in the right direction

Frank Johnson

MYTH: There’s a silver bullet that will solve the problem of rising health insurance costs in the Vail Valley. FACT: There are things that we can do locally to mitigate regional and national insurance trends. Health insurance is a hot topic here in the Vail Valley. It has been for a long time. Insurance rates for local businesses double and even triple on an annual basis. Local employers, especially the smaller ones, simply cannot afford to offer insurance for their employees. That means there are plenty of locals out there kayaking, climbing, biking and skiing without any kind of health insurance. You probably know a few of them. It’s a game of health insurance roulette. When a non-insured local gets hurt, the house always wins. The problem is, we all end up paying the price as we watch our health insurance rates soar.So, what can we do to make sure health insurance is more affordable so that more local businesses can offer it to their employees?For as long as I can remember, local chambers, including the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau, have named preferred brokers to sell insurance to their business members. Unfortunately, these brokers can only offer national and regional insurance plans that are subject to national trends and huge rate hikes.Two years ago the VVCTB took a fundamentally different approach to solving the local insurance crisis. We wanted to create a group of local businesses that could act as one large company which would have negotiating leverage with the insurance providers. After mountains of paperwork and enough meetings to figure out peace in the Middle East, the VVCTB was approved as a “Bona Fide Association” by the Colorado Department of Insurance. What does that mean? The VVCTB can work now with an insurance provider to represent as many as 30,000 people in the Vail Valley. We are the first chamber in the state to achieve this status. In January the VVCTB launched a community health plan with PacifiCare that offers lower rates and more rate stability. The Vail Valley Medical Center, Steadman Hawkins Sports Medicine and several other local physician groups all recognized the importance of banding together to serve the local community and provided exclusive discounts to our plan members. The best news is that the plan is working. Millennium Bank is saving $24,000 this year on the plan. Kiva at Beaver Creek saved 60 percent switching to this plan. Cedar’s Flower Shop saves $500 per month, with only three employees on the plan. Splendido’s is saving $15,000 per year. Perhaps more importantly, as more businesses join the health plan, the more long-term rate stability we’ll all have. Because of our multi-year agreement with PacifiCare and with the local medical providers, rates in the Vail Valley Chamber Health Plan will not escalate like plans on the open market do. We are confident that we can actively manage our plan. And with the business community, the medical providers and the insurance company at the table, we will face only modest rate increases based on our local experience and economics. No, we haven’t solved the growing health insurance crisis here in the Vail Valley. But the Vail Valley Chamber Health Plan is a real effort to develop a community-based solution to a problem that affects us all. Frank Johnson of Vail has been the president of the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau for the past 13 years. He can be reached at

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