Interest strong in community health plan

Scott Condon
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Business operators in the Roaring Fork Valley are scrambling to see if a new community health plan will help them wrestle down skyrocketing health insurance premiums.

A Web site established by the Roaring Fork Valley Community Health Plan received 5,200 visits, or hits, since a health plan project was announced last week, according to Brad O’Neil, a spokesman for Van Gilder Insurance Corp., which helped piece the plan together.

The Community Health Plan’s central office received another 600 telephone calls. “It’s been phenomenal,” said O’Neil. “The response has all been positive.”

The nonprofit Roaring Fork Valley Community Health Plan was created 10 years ago in an attempt to provide affordable, competitive health care coverage for valley businesses and their employees.

A three-year deal was finally reached last week with PacifiCare, which promises to provide coverage at a more affordable rate than many other insurers are charging. Some of business operators have found the PacifiCare coverage delivers on that promise.

Joe Raczak, general manager of the North of Nell condominiums in Aspen, said he was looking at an increase of 40 percent for coverage of his 16 employees through his current carrier. Using the community health plan will probably limit the increase to 10 percent over last year, he said. He talked to his broker last week to make the switch to PacifiCare.

The North of Nell covers 100 percent of its employees’ insurance premiums. “It’s highly important. Most of my employees have been here five to eight years,” he said, attributing some of the stability to the insurance coverage. “They realize the importance of a good health plan.”

Raczak said if the community health plan hadn’t materialized, he was going to have to consider previously unthinkable options because the business probably couldn’t absorb a 40 percent hike in premiums. The company’s payments have tripled in four years, he said.

O’Neil said one of the handful of companies that was able to secure coverage from PacifiCare starting in July saved $10,700 on its employees’ health care plans for the year.

The new community plan is open to businesses and individuals who operate as a business. Private policies for individuals and families are not available. Coverage for most people who want to switch won’t be available until August.

It appears PacifiCare might see a flood of new customers. Insurance broker Michael Sailor, who owns a company in Aspen, said people have been very interested to check the rates. In many cases, they aren’t disappointed.

“The plan will be great for a lot of companies. It won’t work for everyone,” Sailor said. “I’m very optimistic [about the plan] and support it 100 percent.”

O’Neil said there was no specific goal for the number of customers to attract from the valley for the community health plan.

“We’re not looking for a short-term fix. It’s a long-term effort,” he said.

Sailor believes it could have long-term benefits. He’s convinced that the plan will present great value for at least one year. It has the potential to be successful in the long run because PacifiCare has vowed to segregate claims and determine the usage for Roaring Fork Valley customers.

That could create a variety of options for customers and allow them to tailor coverage. People who want “bells and whistles” can acquire it by paying more, and those who only want basic coverage can pay less .

Raczak hopes that the community health plan will provide a long-term solution. He has experienced major insurance carriers who have offered the community competitive rates but couldn’t sustain them.

“They come in and take a beating for a few years, and come back with these 40 percent increases,” Raczak said.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is]


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