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Local First reports on rising healthcare costs on Western Slope

Rising health care costs and the disparity in local health insurance premium costs compared to the rest of Colorado led local businesses to unite and engage behind the efforts of Local First, The Durango Network, and San Juan Basin Public Health to seek out affordable health care for small businesses and their employees.

A unique partnership between Local First and The Durango Network just released a Community Needs Assessment that engaged 175 businesses, individuals, organizations and health care providers in La Plata County over a 9 month period from October 2018 until June of 2019. The key takeaways of the Community Needs Assessment include the importance of health literacy and the possible formation of a health cooperative to address the rising costs of health care in La Plata County. The assessment was completed thanks to a $25,000 grant from the Rocky Mountain Health Foundation. A full report can be found online at https://foundation.local-first.org/health-care/

“The release of this Community Needs Assessment is the culmination of close to a year’s worth of dialogue and work to address the rising cost of health care and the disparity in health insurance premium costs on the Western Slope of Colorado in comparison to the Front Range,” said Monique DiGiorgio, Managing Director of Local First. “Our business community asked us to address this issue, so we have thrown ourselves into the complex arena of health care and are inviting other organizations and individuals to join us in coming up with a local solution to our health care needs.”

According to the report, in the 10-year stretch between 2008 and 2017, the Colorado Division of Insurance reported that health insurance premiums rose 50 percent for people who had coverage through an employer only for themselves. At the same time, spending for outpatient services on the Western Slope’s insurance region is about 87 percent higher than the state average, according to analyses by the state’s Division of Insurance and the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care. Colorado counties with the least competition among both hospitals and insurance carriers have the state’s highest insurance premiums, according to a new Colorado Health Institute analysis released in May of 2019.

“La Plata County has a strong community of over 200 local, independent health care providers. These local health care businesses are a vibrant part of our economy. The Durango Network is pleased to be working with the community to explore local health care solutions that involve the entire health care system from patients to providers,” said Joe Theine of The Durango Network.

“The Rocky Mountain Health Foundation is excited to see the results of this innovative effort and we hope it can be a model for other rural communities on the West Slope,” said Michaelle Smith, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Health Foundation.

Next steps include the formation of a steering committee, claims data collection, and ultimately the possible formation of a health care alliance similar to the Peak Health Alliance in Summit County, CO. Interested businesses and community members are encouraged to contact Local First on ways to engage. Moving forward, this collaborative work on health care will include new partners such as the Chamber of Commerce and local health care experts in the community.

“There is an identified and growing need for comparable health insurance costs for our region. The Durango Chamber of Commerce is pleased to work with and support the efforts of Local First and the Durango Network,” said Jack Llewellyn, Executive Director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce. “As more and more of our workforce are priced out of the marketplace we must collaborate to find solutions. The Durango Chamber’s 800 members represent approximately 15,000 employees.”

To support this initiative, consider contacting Local First to become a Localist.

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