A new nonprofit health insurance cooperative can now sell coverage in Iowa and will soon have the same authority in Nebraska.
CoOportunity Health, based in Des Moines, plans to sell policies in the two states’ new health care marketplaces, formerly called insurance exchanges, under the federal Affordable Care Act, as well as in the private health insurance market.
Under the federal health care act, the cooperative received a $112 million loan, to be repaid within five years, for startup costs and initial capital.
Cliff Gold, chief operating officer, said the State of Iowa issued CoOportunity a certificate to begin selling coverage Oct. 1 that would take effect Jan. 1. Open enrollment for the new marketplaces will continue through March 31, 2014.
Nebraska Insurance Director Bruce Ramge said CoOportunity would receive permission to sell policies in Nebraska after his office receives some final paperwork. Ramge and a State of Iowa spokesman said no applications from other new health insurers are pending.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska and Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield are the states’ leading health insurers.
Gold said CoOportunity expects to be covering 25,000 people in each state within three years. Out of 24 such nonprofit cooperatives nationwide, CoOportunity is the only one serving more than one state, Gold said, a logical step because so many people in western Iowa come to Omaha and Lincoln for health care.
“We expect a lot of individuals and also small employers will be going to the (state) marketplace to shop,” he said, as well as large groups and self-insured employers looking for coverage options in the private market. “We expect it to be brisk on both sides.”
The company has been talking with insurance brokers and independent agents in both states who believe many businesses and individuals will look at the coverage and premiums available at the marketplaces, he said.
Gold, a former Blue Cross executive; Stephen Ringlee of Ames, Iowa, a venture capitalist; and former Iowa Insurance Commissioner David Lyons founded the cooperative, which was called Midwest Members Health until it adopted the current name.
The cooperative recently added two Omahans to its board of directors: Dr. Harris A. Frankel, a medical director at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Nancy Thompson, executive director of the Health Center Association of Nebraska and a former state senator.
Gold said CoOportunity expects to offer many choices, including some beyond the minimum required under the Affordable Care Act. For example, the law requires “silver” and “gold” plans, defined by the benefits offered, and CoOportunity is deciding whether to offer lower-priced “bronze” policies and higher-priced “platinum” coverage.
Few health insurers have said yet whether they will take part in the new marketplaces, but Gold expects the competition picture to become clearer soon and advertising about the available choices to pick up.
“The train is moving very quickly down the tracks,” he said. “We’ll be very active. You’ll hear a lot more about us as we get closer to the starting date.”
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