by Kelly Brough

While health and wellness has long been a pillar of the work of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, over the past 18 months, the Chamber has been intensely focused on health care costs for our members. We are acutely aware that Colorado businesses and their employees in urban and rural areas are struggling to pay for health care.

According to the 2015 report by the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care, personal health expenditures have increased 327 percent over the past two decades in Colorado (compared to 216 percent nationally). The Denver Business Journal in 2013 reported that personal health care costs in Colorado stood at $36.3 billion, more than four times the level from two decades ago. Just since 2000, that spending is up 122.7 percent – 3.7 times the rate of inflation in the state. In 2016, over half of U.S. workers with single-coverage health insurance plans paid a deductible of $1,000 or more, up from 31 percent of workers in 2011.

More urgent than the headlines was the feedback we heard directly from dozens of Chamber members who participated in focus groups last winter about how the cost of health care is impacting them.

We learned directly from our members that the cost of health care is forcing tough budgetary decisions both personally and professionally. They shared with us that they don’t understand how health care costs and prices are set, which means they have a hard time predicting what they’ll pay out of pocket.

Since those focus groups more than a year ago, we’ve been working hand in hand with many of our health care members and key stakeholders (who represent more than 20 organizations), including the Colorado Medical Society, to tackle these very issues. Together, we convened at the Chamber over six months through last summer and fall to develop legislative and private market strategies to increase transparency, ensure the open exchange of useful data, better educate consumers and set a foundation to tackle the cost of health care.

We developed a roadmap with the help of CMS and others that includes market and legislative strategies that the Chamber will prioritize over the next months and years in an effort to help our members. The priorities include increasing the availability of data to help consumers make informed decisions and to help health care stakeholders better analyze trends and identify cost drivers. The key in this strategy is ensuring more ERISA-insured companies share their data, thereby providing a more complete picture of health care prices in Colorado. We also want to focus on making more information available to better understand pharmaceutical price increases and costs through transparency work at the legislature.

Over the next year, we will develop educational tools to help employers better understand how to save money while maintaining quality. This could include sharing best practices for health insurance plan design, effective wellness programs and how-to guides for consumers. In addition to education strategies, we hope to use the increased data collected to help the employer community negotiate higher value health care contracts.

We know that value, access and quality are the keystones to a healthy community, so we also prioritized increasing provider capacity to ensure more Coloradans have access to quality preventive care and mental health services. This could come in the form of supporting workforce development programs or regulatory efficiencies, and supporting the expansion of telehealth in Colorado.

We’re energized by this critical topic and know we have a role to play in helping our members navigate the complex world of health care. The partnership formed with health care stakeholders and our physician community informed our work, and while this only represents a starting point, we know it is as important as ever that we take action on health care in Colorado.

Kelly Brough is the president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber represents 3,000 businesses and their 300,000 employees who work across Colorado.

Categories: Communications, Colorado Medicine, Final Word, Resources, Health System Reform