Routt commissioners blast UCHealth in letter, saying hospital system hasn’t engaged with Peak Health Alliance |

Routt commissioners blast UCHealth in letter, saying hospital system hasn’t engaged with Peak Health Alliance

Hospital president contends UCHealth has 'engaged extensively, and in good faith'

Community members attend a meeting introducing the concept of Peak Health Alliance in Fall 2021.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Routt County commissioners contend UCHealth hasn’t “meaningfully engaged” with Peak Health Alliance during a county-backed effort to offer lower premium health care plans locally.

In a letter sent Tuesday, Aug. 30, to UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center President Soniya Fidler and other company officials, commissioners wrote that the hospital system is “more committed to the status quo, insurance carriers and making money than (it is) to the people of this community.”

“While you have said the right things in public and in your press releases, it is clear that you never intended to be a good partner in looking for creative ways to lower health insurance premiums for the residents and businesses of Routt County,” the letter reads.

In response to questions from Steamboat Pilot & Today, Fidler said UCHealth and the hospital have “engaged extensively and in good faith” with Peak.

“The double-digit discounts provided in the rate proposal we shared with Peak had the potential to help our patients see reductions in their premiums,” Fidler said. “Again, we are disappointed there has been no interest in our proposal because we believe it could have helped residents and employers in our county.”

Routt County started discussions with Peak last year. In December, a local steering committee met for the first time, and commissioners allocated $35,000 to the effort. After starting in March, talks between UCHealth and Peak broke down earlier this month.  

Peak is not an insurer. Rather, it is a health care purchasing cooperative that aims to leverage lower fee schedules from providers and then take that to insurers to offer Peak-sponsored plans with lower premiums.

On Tuesday, Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton, who also served as chair of the steering committee, said that from the start of this effort, it was clear Peak’s model is based on doing things differently than they are typically done, but UCHealth was unwilling to break from that model.

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“UCHealth provided (Peak) with a proposal that looked presumably like what they provide to other insurance providers,” Melton said. “And then said, ‘Hey, this is a double-digit discount. You guys should be grateful for this,’ and then expected Peak to proceed operating as if they were an insurance provider.”

“I think it was pretty clear from day one that, that was not the intended process, and I don’t think that it is a show of good faith for them to just pretend they didn’t know that,” Melton said.

Melton said Peak wanted an agreement showing how much an insurer would be paying for each service. Without that, Peak has no way of knowing whether the deal would be a cost savings or not, Melton explained.

The phrase “double-digit discounts” is as specific as UCHealth has gotten when referring to its proposal to Peak publicly. Fidler used the same phrase when describing discounts the hospital offers insurers like Anthem and United Healthcare, which each offer plans in Routt County.

“From what we have seen, discounts are being passed onto consumers through premium reductions,” Fidler said.

Fidler also said UCHealth has taken significant steps to lower the cost of care locally, including reducing prices on MRIs, CT scans, gastroenterology procedures and in the emergency department. The hospital also has brought more specialists to Steamboat, saving locals time and money, she added.

Fidler also pointed to the opening of UCHealth Urgent Care in the former Steamboat Emergency Center space last year and a partnership with Steamboat Orthopedic and Spine Institute to offer outpatient surgery. Each can offer a lower-cost option, Fidler said.

“We will continue to work to deliver a safe and high-quality health care experience for our patients,” Fidler said, adding that UCHealth also provided $22 million in community benefits in fiscal year 2021.

While different care options may reduce costs, Melton said some of these moves also appear to her as an effort to consolidate options.

“To me it feels a little more like a strategic plan to have a monopoly on health care in our community,” Melton said.

Dan Weaver, a spokesperson for UCHealth, said the effectiveness of UCHealth’s initiatives can be seen in the preliminary rates for this year that show Peak plans offered in Summit County may be more expensive than plans offered in Routt.

The numbers Weaver shared show the silver level Peak plan in Summit County for a 21-year-old non-smoker at $410 a month, whereas in Routt County, the Anthem plan is $392 a month and the Rocky Mountain Health Plans option is $389. RMHP is owned by United Healthcare.

Peak CEO Anne Ladd said that based on Peak’s analysis — which looked at all counties in Routt County’s region and plans for a 20-year-old non-smoker — show Peak would be the lowest cost in the market, except for the Bronze level plan.

Anthem offers a “mountain enhanced” plan that is lower than Peak’s Bronze plan — $295 a month compared to $298 — according to Ladd’s analysis. For the silver and gold levels, Ladd said Peak’s plan is cheaper than Anthem’s.

The “mountain enhanced” plan is also a smaller network of providers, Ladd said. Peak plans are more comparable to Anthem’s Pathway plans, which are between 13% and 23% more expensive than what Peak offers, depending on the plan, according to Ladd.

“I think what UCHealth is trying to say is, ‘We’ve worked with our insurance carriers to get the costs as low as possible,’” Ladd said. “I personally believe there’s significant room for improvement.”

Melton said the letter was written mainly to communicate to taxpayers how commissioners feel UCHealth has engaged in the process and to add a layer of accountability.

At the end of the letter, commissioners wrote: “Please consider this an invitation to continue the conversation at any time.”

“I think, realistically, I’m not super optimistic they are going to change their approach,” Melton said. 

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