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Health insurance premiums in Summit County to go down 41%


Mark Carley, Centura Health’s Vice President of managed care and risk products, speaks at the Keystone Lodge in Keystone, Colo. on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, discussing a reduction in health insurance premiums through Peak Health Alliance in Summit County. Other speakers included Colorado Governor Jared Polis, Colorado Insurance Commissioner Mike Conway, The Summit Foundation’s Cindy Bargell, and CEO of Peak Health Alliance’s Tamara Pogue Drangstveit.
Liz Copan / ecopan@summitdaily.com | Summit Daily News

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and other local and state dignitaries gathered Monday in Keystone to celebrate the official launch of Summit County’s Peak Health Alliance, the state’s first health care purchasing collaborative.

Polis announced the collaborative, in combination with the state’s recently passed reinsurance program, will reduce individual plan prices in Summit County next year by an average of 41.5% compared with 2019 prices.

Eighteen months of work came to fruition at the announcement ceremony, which took place at the Keystone Lodge & Spa.

Peak Health executive director Tamara Drangstveit joined Polis, Rep. Julie McCluskie (D-Dillon), state insurance commissioner Michael Conway, Centura Health representative Mark Carley, and The Summit Foundation board members Mark Spiers and Cindy Bargell on the stage to celebrate the relief in premiums for consumers who pay among the highest health care costs in the nation.

“A typical family of four in Summit County buying insurance on the marketplace will save $14,000 next year,” Polis said after unveiling the price reductions. “Those who have been struggling will have that much more to inject into the local economy and to save for college and retirement. It is absolutely transformative and will help many people live, work and thrive in Summit.”

Polis presented a chart showing examples of where Summit residents would see their cost reductions in 2020 compared with 2019.

The Peak Health gold plan prescription drug copay will go down nearly 47%, while the silver plan prescription copay will be reduced by as much as 47%. The bronze plan costs will drop as much as 41%, and the catastrophic plan will see a more than 45% reduction in premiums.

Started as a special initiative of The Summit Foundation, which provided the initial $150,000 of seed money to get the initiative on the launchpad, Peak Health was created as a response to skyrocketing insurance premium costs in the High Country, which nearly doubled for individual buyers from 2015 to 2019.

“The purpose of The Summit Foundation is to help working families,” Spiers said. “The cost of health care was heavily impacting individuals in the county, and so the foundation unanimously approved funding for the initial study costs.”

Spiers credited Conway, the state insurance commissioner, for his guidance and help in creating the alliance.

“The 41.5% cost reduction is nothing short of miraculous,” Conway said. “I know we often talk about how the worst thing to hear is, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’ But we are here to help. We are going to do really amazing things. This is why we do this, days like this, where I get to tell a family of four that they will save $14,000.”

Polis credited McCluskie for being a driving force behind the alliance as well as the state’s reinsurance program, which itself will bring premiums down statewide by 18.2%.

“After carrying the legislation in the house that helped make this possible, I watched people in this community work so hard to help bring down the cost of health care for our working families,” McCluskie said. “To have it become real today is probably one of the best moments I’ve had as a legislator.”

While taking her turn at the podium, Drangstveit choked up as she gave an example of the nightmare she and others in the alliance sought to prevent.

Drangstveit explained that, after having twins born prematurely 41/2 years ago, she was able to get the care they needed and was relatively financially unscathed because she had insurance. But she recalled the story of a mother of twins, also born prematurely, who did not have insurance, was unable to buy a home, lost her job, was unable to afford early child care for her babies and is still paying for their therapy with credit cards.

“I’m genuine when I say that I know how much pain this has been causing our community,” Drangstveit said, crediting partners including The Summit Foundation, St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, Bright Health, Rocky Mountain Health Plans and local governments and businesses for coming to the table to make Peak Health a reality.

“The fact that we’ll have this much relief this year, it means a lot to me, personally. It means a lot to all of the people who partnered with us to make this happen, but mostly, it’s all about all those people I heard who have been struggling,” Drangstveit said.

Polis lauded Peak Health Alliance as an example for the state, with nearby mountain communities poised to create their own collaboratives with Peak Health as the organization to model. He said it was an example of the Colorado can-do, problem-solving attitude that gets people working together, tackling problems bigger than any individual could solve.

“Peak is a Colorado-born success story about our frontier spirit, one that we want to replicate across state,” he said.


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Summit County saw strife in 2018


One of the most talked about projects in the county was the redesign of Kilby Road. Residents complained that the snake-like curves make the road unsafe, particularly for cyclists. (Park Record file photo)

As each year winds down, the Summit County community always has a lot to look back on and 2018 was no different. Among the reconfiguration of Kilby Road, the denial of a hotel project at the former Colby School property on S.R. 224 and the approval of a sports-action camp at Gorgoza Park, there were several notable stories to highlight.

The new design of Kilby Road in the Snyderville Basin that debuted over the summer was one of the most talked about construction projects in the county, with many residents strongly opposing the snake-like curves intended to slow down traffic along the frontage road.

Summit County Councilors also unanimously agreed to rescind a permit for a hotel project at the former Colby School property on S.R. 224. The Council’s decision ultimately brought an end to a nearly four-year dispute over whether the project was allowed in a rural-residential zone with three neighborhoods surrounding the property. Here are the five top news stories in Summit County in 2018:

5. Utah Department of Transportation opens state’s largest wildlife crossing over Interstate 80

Summit County’s wildlife advocates have notched many wins in recent years when it comes to crusading for the safety of the area’s wildlife, as well as the residents who live side-by-side with them.

One of the biggest successes came just weeks before the end of the year when the Utah Department of Transportation officially opened the largest wildlife crossing in the state over Interstate 80.

The overpass spans six lanes at Parleys Summit and was built to serve as an alternative path for migrating moose, elk, deer and other animals.

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Several members of Save People Save Wildlife, a Summit County wildlife advocacy group, attended the opening of the overpass. Save People Save Wildlife has spent the last couple of years encouraging UDOT to install more wildlife fencing along the interstate. In 2016, members held a protest over the Fourth of July weekend to draw attention to what they called “Slaughter Row.” Members claimed the moose population was beginning to dwindle in the county and that drivers were at risk.

Sharon Cantwell, a member of Save People Save Wildlife, said she was “blown away” by the overpass.

“Our group truly feels like our wildlife has been decimated by the gap on I-80 and each of us know far too many people who have totaled their cars, which amounted to be the scariest experience of their entire life,” she said. “Each one of us cringe as we drive I-80. But, I feel like this can truly help.”

The bridge was constructed as part of UDOT’s I-80 climbing lane project, which added a climbing-truck lane between Jeremy Ranch and Parleys Summit.

Construction reduced the westbound travel lanes periodically over several months as traffic was diverted away from the work zone. In August, the westbound lanes were closed between Summit Park and Parley’s Summit as crews worked on the wildlife crossing. The shutdown snarled traffic as drivers looked for alternative routes through several neighborhoods in the Snyderville Basin.

4. Summit County’s Republican Party fails to yield any candidates for County Courthouse races

Several critical Summit County Courthouse positions were up for election in 2018, including sheriff, county attorney and two seats on the County Council.

The other department head roles that were up for grabs were the county clerk, auditor and recorder. The seven Democratic incumbents who held those positions immediately filed to retain their seats.

But, as the March filing window winded down, it became clear that the ballot for the General Election was already set. No challengers from the Republican Party filed to enter the fray against the incumbents, leaving the county races uncontested.

Josh Mann, an independent, ultimately filed as a write-in candidate challenging County Councilor Glenn Wright for Council Seat E. Wright overwhelmingly defeated Mann, retaining his seat on the Council. Wright was first elected in 2016 to serve the remaining two years of former councilor Dave Ure’s term.

Summit County Councilor Chris Robinson, along with Sheriff Justin Martinez, County Attorney Margaret Olson, Clerk Kent Jones, Recorder Rhonda Francis and Auditor Michael Howard retained their positions.

Brantley Easton, Summit County Republican Party chair, said in March that he spoke with several people who had expressed their interest in mounting a campaign. However, it “wasn’t the right time for them to jump in.”

The sparse candidate field was rare. Some argued it indicated the community’s support for the incumbent elected leaders, while others attributed it to an overall lack of confidence in the Republican Party within the party.

3. Woodward Park City action-sports camp at Gorgoza Park takes flight

When a Woodward action-sports camp was first proposed in 2017 at Gorgoza Park in the Snyderville Basin, the project ended up being a divisive issue that split the community and extreme athletes.

The camp’s proximity to homes located in nearby neighborhoods spurred most of the opposition to the project. Residents opposed several features of the park, including the chair lift, snowmaking operations and hours of operation. Woodward Park City will serve athletes in several different sports, including skiing, snowboarding, gymnastics, skateboarding and BMX freestyle bicycling.

Shortly after the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission approved the project in January, three individuals appealed the planning panel’s decision. One application claimed commissioners failed to impose adequate mitigation for the project. The appellants were not only appealing the panel’s decision, but also the process the application went through.

The County Council ultimately agreed to collectively deny the three appeals, but put restrictions on snow making and the height of the chair lift near the ridgeline.

“We sat down with the all the parties and went through all the conditions and made sure the appellants were comfortable that the conditions would help them,” said County Council Chair Kim Carson in April at the time of the decision.

Construction on the camp, slated for the land adjacent to the tubing hill, began in September. Woodward Park City, which will be the sixth Woodward location, is scheduled to open for the 2019-2020 winter season.

Jill Story, who filed one of the appeals on behalf of herself and more than 20 homeowners in Pinebrook, said in April that she appreciated that the Council added more restrictions to the camp.

“I’m happy that it is off the ridgeline now and they will have to put the snowmakers a little lower on the hill,” she said after the project’s approval. “I wish they could have done more for Jeremy Ranch because they will see all of it, including the lights.”

2. Contentious hotel project at former Colby School property on S.R. 224 denied

Residents in the three neighborhoods surrounding the former Colby School property on S.R. 224 spent nearly four years fighting the hotel project that was first proposed for the property in 2014.

The firm representing the property owners originally submitted a proposal to the county to construct a 55-room hotel project, along with a 5,000-square-foot restaurant, bakery and fitness studios. The project went through several iterations before a scaled-back version was ultimately presented and approved by the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission in 2017.

Two separate applications appealed the planning panel’s approval of the project, taking the matter to the County Council. The County Council ultimately agreed to rescind the permit for the project in March after discussing the matter extensively in several meetings.

“We are very happy,” said Jess Bost, a nearby homeowner, in March. “This is the outcome we were looking for simply because it is what we have been told as residents for the last 20 years. When I moved into my house I didn’t think we would ever be in the situation we are in today.”

Prior to the decision of the Council, an attorney representing the property owner’s firm accused the Council of misconduct, claiming, among other charges, that the Council members engaged in inappropriate secret sessions in violation of open meetings laws.

A lawsuit was filed against the county for the Council’s decisions to rescind the permit for the project. But, the county was never served the lawsuit. Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson said in October that the 120-day window to serve the county had lapsed.

1. Community outraged over new design of Kilby Road

Summit County completed two major projects along Kilby Road in the Snyderville Basin during the summer, including the construction of a 450-space remote parking lot. But, it was the redesign of Kilby Road that drew the community’s ire.

The county was immediately inundated with complaints about the new snake-like design once the road was opened. County officials said the redesign was intended to help traffic flow better while reducing congestion and speeding. The county has widened the road from Ecker Hill Middle School to Quarry Village and constructed two new roundabouts in front of the park-and-ride lot and the middle school. Several new medians were installed as traffic calming measures.

Many residents called the road a disaster and questioned the safety of the new design, particularly for cyclists. The county ended up adding more pavement to widen the westbound bike lanes in certain locations to provide an additional buffer for cyclists. However, residents continued to complain that the road is still unsafe for cyclists.

“There are places where the bike lane is four feet,” said Michael Conti, a Jeremy Ranch resident who has been vocal about his opposition to the road. “The road wasn’t wide enough to begin with and this widening is like putting lipstick on a pig. It’s not going to solve the problem. This sets precedent that they put bike lanes in. But, they need to do it correctly. Unfortunately, the community is not happy.”

While county officials continued to maintain the road meets standards for roadway building, the county commissioned an independent peer review of the project in November. The results of the review are expected to be made available once it is complete. The contract with the engineering firm that was hired to conduct the study ends on Dec. 31.


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