Vail Valley locals examine what health care could look like |

Vail Valley locals examine what health care could look like

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” Imagine trying to plan a health care system for a community of 4 million people, much less the Vail Valley. Everyone needs good care, everyone needs insurance, and, most important, all the companies involved have to turn a profit.

That was the challenge laid out for a group of business people, health care company executives and others this week in a “health economy business simulator” session in Denver.

To get participants to look beyond the problems of their own businesses, everyone in the simulation teams was given a different job. Then, using a computer modeling program, the participants tracked the results of various policy changes over a three-year period.

“It was very intense,” said Hollis Dempsey of HR Plus in Eagle, a company that handles human resources and benefits operations for small businesses. “We really gained an understanding of how huge the issue is. One little change in one thing affects everyone in the rest of the system.”

Dempsey said the computer models showed that an area with a high percentage of uninsured residents will eventually create a drag on a local economy. Conversely, an area that goes to great lengths to provide medical coverage to residents will make medical providers and insurance companies unprofitable.

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Some of the best results, Dempsey said, came from doing relatively small programs that employers, clinics and insurance companies could do together. Those projects ranged from “wellness” programs as simple as encouraging walking to concerted efforts to get flu shots to as many people as possible.

In the real world, efforts to keep people well can actually hurt clinics and hospitals.

“We don’t have a health care system, we have a sick care system,” said Brooks Bock, the new chief executive officer of Colorado Mountain Medical. “We don’t encourage people to take steps like that.”

After a couple of days of running computer models and seeing how systems can work ” and fail ” both Dempsey and Bock said they brought home information that can help them as state and federal policy makers discuss changes to the country’s health care system.

Dempsey said various health care reform proposals that came out of a state task force last year ” none of which made it as far as even proposed legislation ” would actually hurt small businesses that focus on helping employees live healthier lives.

While he’s new on the job, Bock said what he learned at the seminar would be part of the conversations he has with officials at Vail Valley Medical Center, Vail Resorts and the valley’s other big employers.

But what the simulation had that’s missing in the real world is transparency, Bock said.

“We were playing with fake money,” Bock said. “But physicians’ groups, hospitals and insurers tend to operate autonomously,” without much regard for the effect the decisions made at one business might have on others.

Dan Oftedahl, who ran the simulation for Humana, one of the country’s biggest health insurance companies, agreed.

“In every sector of the economy, you tend to look at things from your own view, and how it affects you,” Oftedahl said.

The intent of the simulation, he said, is to get people to look at a huge system from the perspective of other participants. If that could happen with more people, Oftedahl believes there would be less pressure to start from scratch with the whole American health care system.

“Our system’s broken, no doubt about it,” Oftedahl said. “But there are parts of it that work very well. Our system doesn’t need to be blown up, just fixed.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or

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