Vail Valley Partnership CEO: State officials hamper creating Eagle County insurance pool (column) | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley Partnership CEO: State officials hamper creating Eagle County insurance pool (column)

Chris Romer
Vail Valley Partnership

The Vail Valley Partnership recently sent a letter to the state insurance commissioner, pleading to allow us to create a local solution to our health insurance challenge.

We believe our community can't afford to wait for a health insurance solution from Washington or Denver. We need to find a local, innovative solution before ever-increasing health care costs make operating a business (or remaining a resident) cost-prohibitive.

Vail Valley Partnership is actively working to implement a localized health care solution within Eagle County to support businesses and lower health insurance costs for our residents. It could help our businesses and it would also support our local health care providers.

Tackling big issues such as health care and health insurance costs requires a focused, coordinated effort. It's a complex process and not a quick, easy fix. We're fortunate to have the right organizations at the table to address it, yet are receiving pushback from the state bureaucracy.

Disruptive innovation is the introduction of a product or service into an established industry that performs better and, generally, at a lower cost than existing offerings. For example, the "Amazon effect" is the ongoing evolution and disruption of the retail market, both online and in physical outlets, resulting from increased e-commerce.

Apply this concept to health insurance, and Vail Valley is well positioned to take an innovative yet pragmatic approach to addressing this issue by creating a "Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangement" (MEWA). It's when a group of employers pool their contributions in a self-contributing benefits plan for their employees.

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MEWAs are a way for smaller companies to share risks and offer employee benefits outside of the government-run health insurance exchanges. This model has proven successful in Wyoming, Missouri and South Carolina (among other areas).

There are only two health insurance companies (payers) on the Affordable Care Act exchange (the number of payers has dropped each year since launch) — only Kaiser Permanente and Anthem BlueCross Blue Shield offer plans in our market. 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 less than 10 employees.

A proven solution exists for this small group niche. We can develop a MEWA to create more stability in insurance premiums, now and in the future, resulting in broader accessibility to health insurance and coverage options within the community. The Vail Valley is not "typical" — we arguably have the most sophisticated health care capabilities in a rural market in the entire country — and this model is proven to work.

We are confident that when residents have more choice, lower costs and options, and when businesses have a solid benefits package, the middle class in Eagle County can grow and thrive. Addressing health insurance costs would allow us to build a business-friendly environment, making Eagle County an attractive place to conduct business. Creating an innovative health care group product that works for our small business stakeholders is a key step. It is an exponential improvement over the status quo and could provide the impetus to a larger-scale solution.

Unfortunately, we've hit a significant hurdle: Colorado requires all plans to be approved by the State Insurance Commissioner, and we are working to gain that support, knowing that we can't let perfect be the enemy of better. We have to do something now and our research shows we can. We, frankly, cannot figure out why the Division of Insurance does not think this is a crisis.

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