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ACA insurance co-op enrollment reaches 300,000


By Paul Demko
Posted: February 26, 2014 - 7:00 pm ET
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Roughly 300,000 individuals have signed up for plans offered by not-for-profit health insurance carriers that were seeded with $2 billion in loan money through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

That figure was provided by John Morrison, outgoing chair of the National Alliance of State Health Co-Ops, at the group's annual meeting in Washington on Tuesday.

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Those insured individuals represent about 8% of total enrollments since the state and federal exchanges opened on Oct. 1. The CMS announced on Tuesday that more than 4 million individuals have now signed up for commercial health plans through the online marketplaces.

There are 23 consumer-operated and oriented plans doing business in 23 states across the country. Three additional states—Idaho, New Hampshire and West Virginia—are expected to have co-ops competing for customers during the 2015 open enrollment period, which starts in November.

Some co-ops already have established a strong toehold in the marketplace. CoOpportunity Health, which operates in Nebraska and Iowa, has signed up more than 50,000 individuals for coverage. That's more than 400% above the organization's initial projections for the 2014 open enrollment period. Similarly, Kentucky Health Cooperative says it has captured more than 60% of that state's exchange business, while Maine Community Health Options says it has garnered 80% of its state's exchange enrollments so far.

Kevin Lewis, CEO of Maine's co-op, points out that the only other insurer selling products on the state's exchange is Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “Without us there would be no competition in the marketplace,” Lewis said.

Other co-ops are finding it more difficult to sign up customers. In at least three states where the not-for-profit startups are operating—Maryland, Massachusetts and Oregon—their online marketplaces have been plagued by technology problems.

Co-ops also have been hamstrung by not being allowed to use federal funds for marketing efforts. Maine Community Health Options was able to secure roughly $500,000 in foundation grants to help publicize its products, according to Lewis. And CoOportunity Health was able to obtain a $650,000, no-collateral loan from local credit unions to help market its products in Iowa and Nebraska.

“It's been a handicap,” said Dr. Martin Hickey, CEO of New Mexico Health Connections and newly elected chair of NASHCO. “At the same time, our brand, our message, is very powerful.”

Follow Paul Demko on Twitter: @MHpdemko


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