Seasonal Steamboat Ski Area employees will no longer receive health insurance from Intrawest | SteamboatToday.com

Seasonal Steamboat Ski Area employees will no longer receive health insurance from Intrawest

A ski instructor from the Kids Vacation Center leads her students back to the base area Thursday afternoon. Intrawest, the parent company of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., no longer will offer seasonal employees health insurance.

— One of Steamboat Springs' biggest employers is scaling back its health insurance offerings as a response to the Affordable Care Act.

Intrawest, the parent company of Steamboat Ski Area, informed all of its seasonal employees earlier this month that it no longer would offer them health insurance after April 30.

The change has sent several of the company's employees here in Steamboat to the state's new health insurance marketplace just days before a March 31 enrollment deadline.

"The company, along with the rest of the country, is adapting to the new changes in health care resulting from the (Affordable Care Act) and will continue to work with staff to help them make the best decisions based on their individual situation," Steamboat Ski Area spokesman Mike Lane said in an emailed statement about the change.

Intrawest's decision to not continue offering seasonal employees health insurance on the company's group CIGNA plan is poised to impact employees differently depending on a variety of circumstances ranging from their incomes to their family makeup and their ages.

In an email to employees, ski area officials wrote that an analysis from Intrawest found that coverage on the new health exchange would be cheaper for most of its seasonal employees.

Erin Gleason, the community and small business health insurance coordinator for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, said the seasonal employees who have come to her office for help are finding their options on the marketplace greatly vary.

"You have some who are very excited and some who are very upset depending on their circumstances," Gleason said. "Basically, it comes down to if they qualify for a subsidy, or if they don't and they're going to have to pay full price."

She said employees who qualify for the subsidies should see a reduction in their overall annual cost of health insurance.

But those who don't, either because their income is too high or because of other circumstances, the costs could be higher.

Gleason said older retirees who are working seasonal ski jobs could see the most impact from the changes in health insurance.

"As you get older, the premiums get bigger and bigger, and it increases their incentive to take these minimal hourly jobs for the benefits," she said.

Gleason said that on the marketplace, these older workers who have higher incomes from a pension often don't qualify for subsidies and have to pay full price.

The monthly prices of insurance could vary by hundreds of dollars depending on the subsidies.

Because of the complexity of each employee's health insurance situation and the short amount of time to get registered, Lane said the ski area is working with local insurance brokers and the VNA for help with navigating the marketplace.

Gleason said the VNA saw about 100 Intrawest employees during insurance enrollment workshops this week.

The sessions followed two meetings the ski area held about the insurance changes March 5 and 6.

"Intrawest is very interested in helping their employees by setting up these meetings," Gleason said, adding that the ski area's human resources department has been working nonstop in recent days to help employees. "The problem with it locally is the seasonal employees here didn't have word from Intrawest until the first week of March."

The influx of Intrawest employees at educational sessions about the insurance marketplace came as health care navigators here already were busy with enrollment deadlines looming.

"It's hard for all the seasonal employees here in town because all of this new health insurance is based on their income, and it's hard to predict sometimes what the impact will be," Gleason said.

Even before the launch of the marketplace, seasonal workers here have faced challenges with health coverage.

At a luncheon last year held to discuss the Affordable Care Act, a seasonal ski area employee outlined how it was a struggle each year to receive partial benefits from her employer and then face an offer of a COBRA plan for extended coverage that would cost her more than $1,600 per month.

"That's out of the question for my family," she told the audience.

With Intrawest, employees had the option of continuing coverage with COBRA after they were laid off, finding another private plan for the months they didn't work at the ski area or forgoing health insurance.

The new health care law now requires that these seasonal employees carry insurance year round or face a fine.

Intrawest's change in coverage affects all of its resorts, including Winter Park.

According to the announcement, the company's benefits staff is working to determine which seasonal employees may have worked enough hours in the past year to qualify for regular insurance status.

Gleason encouraged seasonal employees who have coverage ending soon to start shopping for new insurance if they haven't already.

The VNA will host free information sessions about the insurance marketplace Monday at LIFT-UP of Routt County from 1 to 3 p.m.

Additional meetings will be held at Bud Werner Memorial Library from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday and March 28.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10