Health care reform and mountain resort communities |

Health care reform and mountain resort communities

by Rob Katz
CEO, Vail Resorts

Over the last year, the issue of health care reform has provided us with much to discuss and debate. Some of this debate has been focused on the process, some on the policy, and more than a little on political theater. Whether you are adamantly opposed, enthusiastically supportive or completely undecided on the recent health care reforms, most can agree the goal of increased coverage options at a reasonable cost is an important one.

In Colorado, tourism is the second largest segment of the economy, so the importance and reach of our seasonal workforce is statewide. Our mountain resort communities present a unique challenge in health care coverage and its costs due to the large seasonal workforce. But the health and economic vitality of our resort communities are dependent on seasonal employees. Without them, our communities literally would not work.

Yet, seasonal workers are often in a challenging predicament when it comes to health care coverage. Because their job status changes multiple times per year, they often don’t qualify for health care coverage, even at larger employers. Those who do secure coverage for one part of the year often then go without coverage for the rest of the year because of availability, cost or both.

That is a problem. For seasonal employees it means many families do not have access to affordable health care. For employers who offer insurance, it creates an incentive for seasonal workers to squeeze all of their medical needs into the few months when they have coverage. For our communities, this means that for many months of the year there are portions of the population without health care coverage. If these people become sick or are injured, they have to resort to utilizing emergency rooms for their primary care.

At Vail Resorts, we believe the recently passed health care bill offers four important solutions to this mountain resort community problem: (i) it allows young adults to remain on the health care plans of their parents until they are 26, which covers a large portion of the entry-level seasonal population; (ii) it offers tax subsidies and group pricing for individually purchased plans, which gives seasonal workers affordable options in the off-seasons beyond expensive COBRA coverage; (iii) it ends health status exclusions and pre-existing condition prohibitions that often make coverage unavailable to individuals and; (iv) it mandates that people carry coverage year-round. This last point eliminates the incentive for employees to squeeze all their medical costs into one season.

The long-term success of Colorado’s resort communities, and the economic effects of tourism statewide, hinge on ensuring a stable workforce. The new health care laws, while imperfect, will help provide affordable coverage options to Colorado’s seasonal workforce, who represents the lifeblood of a key industry in our state.

Exactly how these new health care laws will be implemented remains unknown. It is important that local employers and health care providers work with our senators and representatives to ensure that these new requirements take into consideration the unique nature of the resort industry and treat all of the operators in a balanced fashion.

Rob Katz is chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts, Inc.

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