Vail Valley Partnership CEO: Innovation key to addressing community issues (column) |

Vail Valley Partnership CEO: Innovation key to addressing community issues (column)

Chris Romer
Vail Valley Partnership

Where do we end up if we do nothing?

Futurist Rebecca Ryan shares that fear is contagious — and I think she’s right. Fear keeps people stuck.

Fear is the dragon we must slay in order to move forward and get the change that is really possible.

The question for communities is how do we move from fear-based to hope-based?

Foresight can eliminate fear: nonpartisan, non-finger pointing, solution-oriented discussion about the future. Looking at solutions and avoiding fear gives us the opportunity to stop addressing the symptoms and start addressing the core problems.

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How we apply innovation to improve our current systems can make a difference in addressing the core problem.

After all, innovation is more apt to involve the practical implementation of an invention (i.e. new/improved ability) to make a meaningful impact in the market.

Examples of innovation impacting markets include transportation (Uber and Lyft), vacation rental lodging (Airbnb, Vacation Rental by Owner, Vacasa) or most anything done by Apple in the past 10 to 12 years.

Free market innovation is the key to making things better and improving systems.

Yet innovation hasn’t yet impacted one major community issue in Colorado’s high country region: health insurance costs. Interestingly, major international corporations Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices and JP Morgan are attempting to innovate in the health care realm by joining together to create a health care “megacompany.” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is famous for his belief that “your margin is my opportunity.” He clearly sees an opportunity to apply innovation to health care.

Innovation in health care

The idea of innovation and opportunity being applied to our (nationally) inefficient health insurance industry is a great start. There is no greater margin opportunity today than health insurance costs.

Over the past few years we have been overly optimistic that leaning on existing players in the health care industry would yield real change — yet many of them are heavily incentivized to maintain that inefficient status quo.

These titans of industry — partnering across technology, insurance and finance — might just spur true innovation in the health care industry.

I’m optimistic they will help introduce the type of innovation which moves our economy forward by introducing a new way of doing business. As Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying in the press release, tackling this industry will require, among other things, “a beginner’s mind and a long-term orientation.”

Consider our local challenges: traditional models are subject to state mandates and have limited plan options. That has limited our options with regards to creating a Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangement or an Association Health Plan — despite federal department of labor support for these models, and despite states as far spread and diverse as Maine to Nevada, Wyoming to South Carolina to Texas. We are modeling each of these programs in hopes of bringing a similar model to Colorado as our state political environment allows.

Despite the success of creating these programs in other states, there are enormous market forces working against sensible reforms and innovation designed to lower costs to consumers. Defenders of the status quo are among the most powerful lobbyists in Washington and within the state.

Innovation creates disruption in the marketplace, so it is not an easy fight. But we have at least one thing on our side — Stein’s Law, named after the famous economist Herbert Stein, which simply states: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” Our current system isn’t sustainable and so it must stop. Innovation will help lead the way to more options for consumers and a better overall model.

Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at

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