(Photo courtesy Salud Family Health)
Two Coloradans are helping the Obama administration try to set up new, cooperatively-owned health insurance companies across the country. Colorado Public Radio Health Reporter Eric Whitney says there are billions of dollars available to set up co-op health plans, at least for now.
WHITNEY: The plan to set up new cooperatively-owned, non-profit health insurance companies is part of the federal Affordable Care Act Congress passed last year. Barbara Yondorf, a consumer health advocate in Denver explains.
YONDORF: The idea here is that if consumers own and operate it, they will run the organization in ways that absolutely run in the best interest of their members.
WHITNEY: Yondorf was appointed by the US Inspector General to an advisory panel last June to help set up the cooperative plans. It sends its final recommendations to the White House today (Fri 4/15/11).
She says starting a new insurance company requires a lot of up-front captial, and that the Affordable Care Act aims to make four billion dollars available nationwide to get co-ops off the ground.
YONDORF: it's possible that as much as 30 or 40 million dollars could be available to an entity in Colorado that wants to set these up.
WHITNEY: That money has to be paid back. And loans are not available to existing non-profits that offer health coverage, like Kaiser Permanente and Rocky Mountain Health Plans.
Grand Junction Physician Michael Pramenko is also on the co-op advisory panel. He says several Colorado groups are interested in potentially starting a new co-op insurance company.
PRAMENKO: I belive there's physican groups that are interested, there's some consumer groups that are interested, I believe there's foundations here in Colorado that are interested in the idea
WHITNEY: How do insurance companies already operating in Colorado feel about getting some new competition? A spokesman for the Colorado Association Health Plans says the organization is just now learning about program and that it's too soon to comment. And there's no guarantee it will actually happen. Congress just reduced funding for co-ops from six billion to four billion dollars in this year's budget compromise, and the remaining funding could be a target of future cuts.