Idaho gets its first health-insurance co-op

The new type of insurer came into existence with federal support.

adutton@idahostatesman.comJune 17, 2014 

Idaho's health insurance exchange will have at least one more competitor on the market this fall.

The Idaho Department of Insurance has approved Mountain Health CO-OP's application to sell insurance in the state.

The co-op plans to offer coverage through Idaho's health insurance exchange. It hopes to sign up 10,000 customers in Idaho in its first year of business.

The Mountain Health CO-OP, based in Eagle, is the Idaho branch of Montana Health CO-OP. The Montana organization started in 2012 with a $58 million federal loan and now has more than 12,000 members in Montana.

It's one of many co-ops around the country.

When capitalized, as in Mountain Health's name, CO-OP is short for Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan. These co-ops are private, nonprofit organizations designed by the Affordable Care Act to sell individual and small-business plans on health insurance exchanges.

"The idea of a health insurance co-op isn't just to make health insurance more affordable," said Jerry Dworak, CEO of the Montana Health CO-OP and a former Blue Cross of Idaho executive. "Any profits we make go back to our members in better coverage, lower prices and better care. We're a true co-op, and our members are in charge."

Four not-for-profit insurers sold plans to consumers last year and early this year through Your Health Idaho, the insurance exchange in Idaho. They were Blue Cross of Idaho, Oregon-based PacificSource, Utah-based Select Health and BridgeSpan, which is a sister company of Regence BlueShield of Idaho.

"I'm really proud of what we're trying to do here ... building an entirely new concept of health insurance in partnership with our members, our doctors and our hospitals," said Dr. Doug Dammrose, executive director of Mountain Health CO-OP. "With members in charge of a true nonprofit, we're really excited about what we will be able to do to improve Idahoans' access to care and overall health."

The Montana Health CO-OP received $22 million in no-interest and low-interest federal loans last year to expand into Idaho.

The insurer started the process of getting approved to sell in Idaho about five months ago. The Idaho Department of Insurance requested more documentation about the co-op's financial strength before giving it the OK to sell to Idahoans.

"Fortunately, we have been highly successful in our first several months of operation in Montana, and we were able to demonstrate our financial strength to the department's satisfaction," said Karen Early, spokeswoman for Mountain Health CO-OP.

"We recognize that there have been recent news reports about the varied level of success among other co-ops around the country. However, we believe we have a great combination of low administrative overhead and insurance expertise that has positioned us well for success in the future."

Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey

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