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Informing Policy. Advancing Health.

Do health insurance CO-OPs belong in Colorado?

On Tuesday, April 26, CHI hosted a discussion of how consumer-operated and -oriented health insurance plans (CO-OPs) might work in Colorado. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides start-up money for CO-OPs. CO-OPs are nonprofit plans run by participating members to ensure consumers have a majority vote in how the health plan is operated. The ACA includes $3.8 billion in loans to help organizations in all states jump start the development of these cooperatives.

We are lucky to have two Colorado residents on the national CO-OP advisory board, bringing a wealth of expertise in this area home. Barbara Yondorf, president of a health policy consulting firm in Denver, is the national advisory board co-chair. Dr. Michael Pramenko, president of the Colorado Medical Society, is also a board member.

Both provided expert insights at the meeting, which attracted a diverse group, including people from farmers’ unions, community health centers and business groups. Having such a varied group made for interesting discussion and helped put a Colorado spin on the information from the speakers.

While Dr. Pramenko and Ms. Yondorf provided the brass tacks of CO-OPs from the purview of federal legislation, William Oemichen from Cooperative Network in Wisconsin and Minnesota described successful health insurance cooperatives around the country. He answered questions about how much health benefit mandates add to the cost of cooperative insurance plans and how CO-OP members react to having real skin in the game in terms of personal health and premium costs.

What became clear is that Colorado’s unique geographic and population distribution necessitates an exploration of regional CO-OPs. There are both benefits and drawbacks. Mr. Oemichen spoke to the benefits of improving local health and health care, and increasing the responsibility people take with their own health when they are invested in their health plans. A drawback to creating smaller-scale cooperatives is getting enough people to join to make the health plans a viable option.

Throughout the morning, the audience appeared engaged and ready to continue a deeper discussion of the viability of CO-OPs in Colorado. Whether or not health insurance cooperatives make their way to Colorado, consumers and other stakeholders can benefit from a sustained dialogue about new models of increasing quality, satisfaction and value in health care.

How well do you think regional co-ops would work in Colorado?