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Guest column: Valley Health Alliance behind real change in local healthcare landscape

Primary care focus and new choices for health insurance are a local story

By George Trantow, Gary Knaus, Jim Laing and Dave Ressler
Valley Health Alliance

There is a story that deserves to be told about the changing local landscape in healthcare and health insurance involving a local nonprofit known as the Valley Health Alliance.

The Valley Health Alliance (VHA) has had a hand in two big movements in our local healthcare world, first in the way healthcare is administered, and most recently in our choices for health insurance. You’re more likely than ever to have a primary care doctor you work with, and now for the first time in years there is more than one choice for health insurance plans and providers.

How did we achieve this? Together.

As a unique collaboration between local employers and healthcare providers, the VHA has developed sustainable solutions to improve outcomes for patients and lower costs for  businesses and individuals, from Parachute to Aspen. 

Over several years we’ve built the trust and collaborative spirit needed to make changes that support our local healthcare system and all the services it provides, while also making real changes to make healthcare more affordable.

In the last three years, the VHA has been working to develop an integrated primary care system in our region. It’s been shown over and over again that using a primary care doctor results in better outcomes both in terms of health and costs. 

With regards to costs, data from 2017 for three VHA employers showed nearly $500,000 in unnecessary costs associated with patients who went to the ER with an upper respiratory infection like a cold or case of the flu. Fueled by this reality, we began working toward a solution to give patients better access to a primary care physician, helping to ensure they receive the right level of care at the right time and place.

Another big part of the Valley Health Alliance’s mission is to find sustainable solutions so we all have access to the doctors and services we need and expect. Today, our primary care practices are functioning in a more team-based environment, including the addition of Care Coordinators who focus on the needs of patients with chronic conditions to keep them healthier and to help navigate the healthcare system.

Excellent physician leadership was key to bringing this to fruition. Our Clinical Advisory Board is comprised of local doctors. They have been using data and their deep experience in the community to improve outcomes in every aspect of local healthcare, whether its patient outcomes, practice management, how hospitals work with primary care providers or developing accountability models. This new healthcare model is as much about physician-driven quality care as it is about managing costs.

And proudly, the VHA has helped add more choices in the local health insurance markets. Two new insurance companies now offer plans for businesses, nonprofits and individuals. For years, we have been limited to one choice, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. Now Anthem is facing competition from UnitedHealthcare in the small group market and Rocky Mountain Health Plans in the individual market. 

We encourage folks to ask their brokers or go to the Connect for Health Colorado website to learn more about the choices. There are some very competitive plans out there, so it’s worthwhile spending some time deciding what is best for you or your business. 

So, who is the Valley Health Alliance? Our members include the Aspen Skiing Co., City of Aspen, Pitkin County, Aspen Valley Hospital, Aspen Chamber Resort Association, Basalt Chamber of Commerce, Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, West Garfield County Chamber of Commerce, Mountain Family Health Centers, Valley View Hospital and Grand River Health.

We are a local organization working to reduce healthcare costs and ensure high quality care.

George Trantow is Chief of Physician Operations at Valley View Hospital. Gary Knaus practices family medicine in Carbondale. Jim Laing is Senior VP and Chief of Human Resources at the Aspen Skiing Co. Dave Ressler is CEO of Aspen Valley Hospital.


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