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A healthy, wealthy and wise community

In the La Plata County Community Needs Assessment report focused on access to health care (completed in June 2019), 85% of respondents were dissatisfied to extremely dissatisfied with health care in the county. Today, the average county resident can see up to a 35% reduction in their health insurance premium. While we have not had a chance to remeasure satisfaction in the community, surely, we are making progress in a local health care solution.

A number of organizations and individuals came together to address the pressing need of affordable access to health care in La Plata County and beyond. This group originally was called the Southwest Healthcare Alliance, and today is known as the Local First Foundation Healthcare Steering Committee. Through this dedicated group a partnership was forged with Peak Health Alliance, a purchasing cooperative started by like-minded residents in Summit County. Our work has produced average cost savings of $200 to $300 per month for the average insured individual.

Today, Peak Health Alliance and Local First Foundation have partnered to create a new health care advocate role and hired Doug McCarthy, a local health care policy expert. This position is intended to help build bridges among our local health care organizations and a community seeking more information about their options. Additionally, this opportunity will allow us to reassess the region’s needs, listen to our communities and determine the best path to move forward.

In the meantime, the journey Durango and Southwest Colorado have embarked on is a revolutionary new approach to providing affordable health care through grassroots advocacy, stakeholder input and a roundtable approach involving community members, businesses, health care providers and brokers. Currently, independent researchers are studying the work that has been accomplished by Peak Health Alliance, making us a potential national model of what is possible in a circular economy. To date, our efforts have recirculated an estimated $3.8 million back into the community through health care cost savings in Southwest Colorado. More than 3,000 individuals in Southwest Colorado have enrolled in our innovative health insurance program offering better benefits, such as first-dollar coverage for mental health and preventive care and the option to select a plan with no deductible.

While there have been hiccups associated with bringing a new insurance carrier – Bright Health – into our region, Peak Health Alliance has faith that Bright is making progress in resolving claims payment issues and will regain the status of an excellent service-oriented health plan.

The Commonwealth Fund recently published a study about varied approaches to tackling high health care prices. It summarized the grassroots approach taken in Western Colorado by the Peak Health Alliance in partnership with local communities. The success in bringing down the cost of premiums for residents of our communities resides in price transparency and community accountability. Having a voice advocating for local health care practitioners, small-business needs and the residential quality of life is a major driver in this solution. As I join the Peak Health Alliance board along with two other area representatives, we can continue to help guide that voice and advocate for the right solution for our communities.

Through this solution, we as a community are getting healthier with individuals in Southwest Colorado experiencing firsthand the benefits of a community-driven solution. As we work to keep our dollars local and at work in our hometown, we become wealthier. Now, here is our chance to come together and communicate our needs to improve on this brave new health care model that should work for everyone, making our way to the wiser.

Sarah Tober is executive director of Local First Foundation.