Garfield County commissioner column: Valley View can still do better when it comes to lowering health care costs
Garfield County commissioner
To the Citizens of Garfield County:
Since the inception of the Affordable Care Act, I have committed to bring down the cost of health insurance in Garfield County. We have had some wins: Moving Garfield out of the Mountain Resort Region, home to some of the nation’s highest insurance premiums, and Sen. Bob Rankin’s Reinsurance bill that helped stabilize rates and bring premiums down for Garfield and the entire state. In addition, the Board of County Commissioners engaged Peak Health Alliance, the nonprofit purchasing alliance that has successfully worked with hospitals and carriers to reduce premiums.
I was impressed with Peak’s model of transparency, accountability, and collaboration with hospitals, providers, and carriers to bring down prices. As a matter of transparency, I was asked and accepted an appointment to the Board of Peak Health Alliance. Today, I am working to bring their model here and the Garfield Board of County Commissioners have made it a priority, but it requires the cooperation of our local hospitals.
Last year, we were in negotiations with Valley View Hospital. Eventually, the talks broke down over rates, and the pandemic ended our efforts. Valley View is a member of the Valley Health Alliance, an up-valley non-profit that includes 6 large employers (4 in Pitkin County), which succeeded in bringing another carrier to Garfield but without the premium relief we think Peak can deliver.
In fact, rates around Western Colorado have dropped further than they have in Garfield County. A simple rate comparison that anyone can do shows this:
A 40-year-old non-smoker in Garfield County will pay $400 per month with the plan from United Healthcare’s subsidiary Rocky Mountain Health Plans, and $411 for Anthem. The very same plan in Peak’s other counties for the same 40-year-old? $256 per month.
It is clear to me that we can do better.
In my most recent call with Valley View Hospital’s CEO, Brian Murphy, to re-open talks, I was told that Valley View was going to work with Valley Health Alliance and would not negotiate with Peak again. Why is Valley View unwilling to entertain working with a model that has been proven to lower premiums? Competition is good — what does Valley View have against competition?
I admire Valley View Hospital as they are a world-class facility and an important economic engine. I have a good relationship with Valley View’s CEO and commend his team on their vaccination efforts and their hard work during the COVID-19 pandemic, and their ongoing efforts when it comes to caring for people who cannot afford care. Unfortunately, though, the high cost of health care and insurance premiums are still on the backs of the middle class in Garfield County.
We can do better; I think we owe it to the community to try.
Peak is not asking Valley View to risk its bottom line by giving away service. In fact, Centura Hospital has made it work with Peak in all seven counties Peak operates in, and those communities enjoy rates that are up to 35% less than what they were before Peak entered. I am not asking for them to give up on Valley Health Alliance. Peak is a true purchasing alliance and can complement their efforts. One would expect our hospital to be able to make it work as well.
What I am asking, on behalf of our community, is for Valley View to return to the table, in good faith, and work with us on rates, the same as they do with Valley Health Alliance.
This legislative session, because of the high cost of health insurance and the lack of competition in rural Colorado, Rep. Dylan Roberts and Sen. Kerry Donovan introduced a bill that will require a 20% reduction in health insurance costs by 2025. Why not work with Peak Health Alliance and achieve that reduction in 2022? Give Peak’s Health Alliance proven success a chance here in Garfield.
Let us work together on behalf of the community I know we each care deeply about. Helping the community is part of the mission of Valley View Hospital as a nonprofit. It is also a commitment we as members of the Board of County Commissioners, dedicate ourselves too. Most importantly it is what a community struggling to afford health insurance deserves.
Tom Jankovsky is a Garfield County commissioner.
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