Rising health insurance costs have prompted Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. to stop offering health benefits to part-time workers.
The change affects slightly more than 50 employees, Ski Corp. officials said. The part-time employees learned in late June their coverage through Ski Corp.'s health plan would end Aug. 1. The employees will then be able to access benefits through a program called COBRA.
Ski Corp. Vice President of Human Resources Trish Sullivan said that after absorbing a 23 percent increase in health insurance costs in 2002, the company had to take measures to control costs this year.
"We have had to make some very difficult changes as a result of the national health-care crisis," Sullivan said. "The crux of this matter is these spiraling costs are costs that we cannot control, which is why we've had to act responsibly in making these adjustments. We care very deeply about the employees and the impact to individuals."
Most businesses do not offer health insurance coverage to part-time employees. Sullivan said she has documented cases of part-time employees for whom covered medical expenses last year exceeded total wages.
The employees who are losing health care benefits work in a variety of the company's departments, including ski instructors. Affected employees include year-round part-time employees and seasonal part-time employees.
Seasonal full-time employees (primarily those who work during the five months of the ski season) and year-round full-time employees also will see changes in their health-care benefits.
A significant change will come when seasonal full-time employees go off the payroll in the spring of 2004, Sullivan said. Previously, those employees were able to continue accessing health insurance at employee rates during the late spring, summer and fall. Beginning next spring, those seasonal full-time employees will pay COBRA rates.
COBRA rates range from $285 a month for one employee up to $857 per month for family coverage.
Ski Corp. requires seasonal full-time employees to work a minimum of 24 hours per week in order to be eligible for health-care benefits. That policy allows managers the flexibility to reduce staff levels to meet demand without disrupting employees' benefits, Sullivan said.
Sullivan declined to discuss the changes full-time year-round employees will experience.
Ski Corp. Vice President of Marketing Andy Wirth emphasized that his company is experiencing the same economic pressure on its benefits package that other large employers in the Yampa Valley face.
"We're not immune to the national health care crisis," Wirth said.
County Commissioner Doug Monger said Routt County has had to cut back on benefits and increase the cost passed on to employees in order to manage costs.
After spending $1.6 million for its employees' health care benefits in 2002, Routt County was confronted with an increase of 25 to 30 percent in order to maintain benefits at the same levels, Monger said.
"It was a killer," Monger said. "It was quite a hunk and we had to look at ways to keep our cost essentially flat. We had a hearing attended by about 30 employees and they were not happy at all."
The county had to increase employees' deductibles and co-payments while increasing the monthly cost of the plan, he said.
Steamboat and other ski areas owned by American Skiing Company are all moving to a new insurance provider. That change means Ski Corp. is pulling out of the Yampa Valley Health Care Plan it co-founded with Yampa Valley Medical Center.
Hospital CEO Karl Gills said his organization will continue to self-insure in the same way it has under YVHCP. However, it will probably drop the formal name.
"Yampa Valley Health Care Plan never really materialized to the level that was hoped for when it was first established," Gills said.
The plan was unable to attract small employers to join because it could not offer rates any less than what businesses could find on the open market. That left the hospital and Ski Corp. as the only two players, Gills said.
Gills said his organization also is faced with challenges in offering health insurance benefits to its employees.
Yampa Valley Medical Center has adjusted deductibles and co-pay amounts over the past two years, Gills said. This year, for the first time, the hospital has had to pass some of the direct cost of health insurance along to its employees in the form of a $20 monthly charge.
During the height of the ski season, the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. employs approximately 2,000 people. Sullivan hopes that when the final numbers are realized, fewer than 50 employees will have lost access to health insurance through the company.