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Bringing price relief and accountability to healthcare

DiGiorgio

It’s been a long, winding road since January 2018 when Local First received impassioned feedback at our annual meeting that the price of healthcare, and health insurance premiums in particular, were crippling the business community.

As we began to explore an issue for which we had a limited track record, the importance of the “Look Local” lens in the complex world of healthcare became obvious.

Much like the challenges facing our downtown retail shops, our healthcare system and its local practitioners are threatened by the national trend toward consolidation of providers, which research shows leads to higher prices without measurably improving the quality of care. The corporatization and consolidation of healthcare typically results in fewer independent local healthcare providers in an increasingly complex system that lacks transparency and equity. Decisions are made in far-away corporate headquarters, making it harder to understand how to have a voice in decision-making. To tackle this trend, Local First teamed up with the local, independent healthcare practitioners of The Durango Network to listen to the community and explore options to support local, independent healthcare in the La Plata County region including Montezuma, Dolores and San Juan counties.

Thanks to initial support from the Rocky Mountain Health Foundation, we received a grant that provided critical capacity to hold focus groups with the business community to tackle local healthcare. From these discussions in 2019 came a community needs assessment recommending that we: 1) increase health literacy in the La Plata County region, and 2) develop a cooperative, local healthcare solution that increases access to care while also reducing insurance premiums. This is when we found Peak Health Alliance and their innovative healthcare cooperative hailing from the mountains of Summit County, Colorado. Similar to an agricultural cooperative, Peak Health Alliance uses the power of community purchasing to bring down the cost of healthcare while bringing the voice of the community back into the healthcare system to support transparency. The ultimate goal of this cooperative, which is officially licensed by the Colorado Division of Insurance, is to provide affordable, high-quality and locally responsive health insurance products in the marketplace. Each dollar our community saves on health insurance is a dollar that can be placed back into the economy on local produce, mortgage payments, and the other costs that make the La Plata County region a great, but expensive place to reside.

Fast forward to 2020, and we are pleased to announce that our goal of offering this type of plan in the marketplace by January 2021 is on track and heading your way - whether you are a business owner or an individual looking for affordable, local healthcare. With the incredible support and expertise of Peak Health Alliance, we have chosen to work with Bright Health who already offers coverage to Peak members in the northern part of our state. Bright Health will be new to our region for 2021, and we are pleased that our efforts appear to have driven greater marketplace diversity and interest in this remote corner of Colorado.

As we prepare for health insurance plans being available in January 2021, with rates and plan designs available this fall, we are now talking with the community about the details of engaging with us. The Southwest Health Alliance is the local decision-making arm of the Peak Health Alliance. As such, we are communicating now with local brokers to ensure they are fully equipped with information regarding the Southwest Health Alliance and Bright Health. Brokers will continue to assist both individuals and employer groups with their healthcare decision-making. Simultaneously, we are reaching out to 5,000 individuals in the business community that expressed interest in the Southwest Health Alliance plan. We are also speaking to the public at large about unique offerings such as $0 co-pays for mental health visits.

Along the way, we all get to uphold our values of transparency, choice, local self-reliance, and evidence-based decision-making. We are pleased that the Southwest Health Alliance insurance product will offer a choice of local providers as well as enhanced primary care and mental health benefits, while delivering cost-savings through partnerships with Centura (owner of Mercy Regional Medical Center), Animas Surgical Hospital, and local healthcare providers. We are still hopeful that Southwest Health System in Cortez will agree to join the Bright Health network so that Montezuma County residents can enjoy unfettered access to local care in their community.

You can find out who sits on the Steering Committee of the Southwest Health Alliance, the incredible support we have received from local governments and corporate sponsors, and how you can engage by visiting the Local First Foundation website. Sign-up for our newsletter by emailing me so that you can attend one of our many webinars to learn more about the Southwest Health Alliance before it hits the marketplace in 2021.

Get involved. The power of a cooperative is in its numbers, so our community needs to rise to the occasion, become informed, and learn what the Southwest Health Alliance has to offer. That is not only a way to engage in local healthcare and drive decisions locally, but also a way to reduce your out-of-pocket expense for healthcare. With the Southwest Health Alliance, you can now “look local first” in healthcare for the first time-ever. We are pleased to be offering this unique product to the community and look forward to continuing the dialogue in the upcoming months.

Monique DiGiorgio is the director of Local First and the Local First Foundation in Durango. Contact her at director@local-first.org.