Valleywide health plan unveiled |

Valleywide health plan unveiled

Scott CondonAspen Times Staff Writer

A 10-year effort to bring affordable health insurance coverage to the Roaring Fork Valley finally paid off Thursday with the unveiling of an experimental program unparalleled in the country.A nonprofit organization called the Roaring Fork Valley Community Health Plan signed a contract with regional insurer PacifiCare to provide “competitive” coverage for employees of valley businesses. The contract is good for three years and can be extended.The Community Health Plan is essentially an insurance cooperative that is open to any business in the valley, from major corporations to mom-and-pop operations and self-employed individuals operating as a business. However, individuals without affiliation with a business cannot join.Health care providers such as the hospitals in Aspen and Glenwood Springs and physician groups have agreed to participate in the program.The program is intended to be an antidote to the health insurance crisis facing western Colorado and rural areas in general. Many small businesses cannot help employees pay for coverage while others cannot offer insurance at all.This program will stimulate competition and bring more affordable coverage to the valley, predicted Bill Hanisch, executive director of the health plan.”We know where we are now and we’re not happy with it,” he said.The Roaring Fork Valley Community Health Plan was created in 1993, when major organizations ranging from the hospitals to the Aspen Skiing Co. pooled resources to tackle valleywide health care issues.Leaders of the Valley Health Plan studied insurer options for 20 months, then conducted in-depth discussions with three carriers before selecting PacifiCare. A company called Van Gilder Insurance Corp. was hired by the nonprofit organization to help select a carrier.Brad O’Neill, a development consultant with Van Gilder, said businesses can contact their insurance agents immediately for details about the Community Health Plan and specific rate information. Coverage will begin in August.While examples of “competitive rates” weren’t given, O’Neill stressed that this program is designed to bring skyrocketing insurance costs under control in the valley.”How much longer can you afford 40 to 50 percent rate increases?” he asked.Brian Crary, president of PacifiCare of Colorado, said his company hopes to add customers, obviously, but it was also motivated to participate because the program is innovative.Hanisch said he was unaware of any similar insurance cooperative in the country. The Roaring Fork Valley’s program could be a model for other rural areas, if successful.While hundreds of businesses representing thousands of workers are eligible for the program, two of the biggest employers in the upper valley won’t be participating in the near future.Both the Aspen Skiing Co., which employs more than 2,000 workers during peak season, and Aspen Valley Hospital operate self-insured programs with the help of Roaring Fork Valley Community Health Plan.The Skico’s Jim Laing said the company will stick with its current arrangement for another year before evaluating whether to sign up for coverage through PacifiCare.The program does have endorsements from the chamber resort associations of Aspen, Basalt and Glenwood Springs.Information about the new community health plan is available at or by calling 704-9421 or e-mailing Condon’s e-mail address is