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Hunger for Nonprofit Health Insurance May Aid Co-Ops

A political scientist who participated in the startup of one of the nation’s new nonprofit health cooperatives has an explanation for seemingly quick uptick in enrollment.

“There was a hunger for something like this,” Susan Giaimo of Marquette University said in an interview.

Wisconsin’s Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative will cover more than 20,000 people in 2014, its first year of operation, according to Chief Executive Officer Robert DeVita. That’s double an earlier goal of covering 10,000, he said.

Giaimo last year published a paper in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law about the founding of Common Ground, a project in which she participated as a volunteer and board member.

Common Ground is one of almost two dozen new co-ops created as a result of the 2010 health care law. An outgrowth of an existing local nonprofit group, it used brokers and a network of volunteers to drum up sales, with some supporters knocking on neighbors’ doors to spread the word.

There had been talk for many years about the need for a nonprofit health plan, Giamo said in her paper. By 2008, the local nonprofit, also called Common Ground, decided to create a health insurance purchasing cooperative for small businesses, self-employed people and nonprofit groups.

The organization spoke with more than 200 people and small businesses to gauge interest and sought seed money from state and federal agencies, but the recession that started in 2008 hampered the efforts, Giaimo wrote in her paper.

The enactment of the health care overhaul “opened a new door,” she said. Common Ground received about $56 million in federal loans. The sum was among the smallest of the awards made through the health co-op program, with the largest being the $174 million provided to Health Republic Insurance of New York.

The “restrictive design” of the rules for the co-ops and the whittling of the funds available for the program will stunt efforts to spread the rise of new co-ops across the country, she said.

“Nevertheless, co-ops could reshape the local or regional markets in which they will operate,” she said. “If successful, they will empower small businesses and individuals and offer them democratic, responsive health care experiences. For these groups too long disdained by commercial insurers, this would represent meaningful, positive change.”

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