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Foundation formed from sale of Rocky may be grant source

Foundation formed from sale of Rocky may be grant source

Health programs on the Western Slope could see some direct benefits from the sale of Rocky Mountain Health Plans to UnitedHeathcare.

Because Rocky is a nonprofit entity designed to provide affordable health coverage for Western Slope residents, there is no individual or corporation to profit from the sale of the plan to the for-profit United.

As a result, that money will go into a new foundation that, depending on how it’s designed, could provide grant money to health care programs around the region, said Laurel Walters, Rocky’s chief operating officer.

That new foundation will be created by Rocky’s current governing board.

“What we don’t know yet — it’s still kind of a work in progress — is what happens after that,” she said. “Is it going to be a self-perpetuating board? Is there going to be an application process? What are the specific terms? All of those things have not yet been decided.”

Under terms of the sale, the plan’s current governing board will create a new foundation with an entirely new charter. About the only thing that is clear is the current board cannot appoint itself to the new one.

The head of Rocky, Steve ErkenBrack, shies from suggesting that the new Rocky Mountain Health Plans, a UnitedHealthcare company, can have any relationship with the new foundation board.

Building off the existing foundation, which is funded from Rocky donations and grant money, that new foundation will basically be able to do whatever it wants with the proceeds of the sale.

The amount will depend on whatever the two insurers determine to be Rocky’s fair market value, which ErkenBrack said is $35 million to $40 million. The deal also gives the foundation whatever proceeds Rocky collects from its dispute with Medicare, which could add another $30 million to $40 million to the foundation, minus what is owed area doctors from their reimbursement claims.

Whatever the amount is, it will be far more than the current foundation has ever dreamed of getting, said Lisa Fenton Free, executive director of the existing Rocky Mountain Health Plans Foundation.

She said she’s excited for all of the Western Slope at the prospect of more resources.

The foundation funds such things as tobacco-free programs for pregnant women, hygiene kits for homeless students and worksite wellness programs with area companies.

“We could have substantial dollars that could be provided for health projects around the entire Western Slope,” Fenton Free said. “Isn’t that incredible? Our foundation has been a catalyst for innovative health care approaches, and that is what attracted UnitedHealthcare to Rocky. This stays in line with how we could make a difference for all of the communities on the Western Slope.”

The existing foundation was founded by Rocky in 1997 to help provide quality health care to people around the state, with a particular focus on rural parts of the Western Slope.

Though small by comparison, it is similar to the more well-funded Colorado Health Foundation, which was created about the same time by Health-
One, a nonprofit hospital system in the Denver area.

Walters said it is too soon to know exactly how the new foundation will operate.

But after it’s created, it will break free of Rocky and UnitedHealthcare and operate independently, with its only sources of new revenue through either investments or grants.

Dr. Michael Pramenko of Primary Care Physicians said the foundation will be a boon to the valley.

“The independent foundation to be established with the proceeds of the sale will have a transformational role in the development of health care in western Colorado as it moves from a system in which physicians are paid on the basis of volume to one in which they are paid on the basis of value,” Pramenko said.

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