Health care reform comes to Oregon in first CO-OP

Consumers in Oregon will soon have some new choices in health insurance. Providence Health Plan and Freelancers Union, a national membership group of independent workers, are partnering on a cooperative health insurance model available for all Oregonians.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, recently announced that this proposed partnership is one of the first in the country to create a Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan or CO-OP. The new partnership is one of the first seven CO-OPs to be funded by CMS with repayable loans to establish private, nonprofit, consumer-governed health insurance companies as part of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

According to CMS, a health insurance CO-OP will be a new way for consumers to gain access to health insurance. As consumer-directed organizations, CO-OPs are designed to be accountable to members and responsive to the specific health care needs of plan members by using profits to lower premiums, improve quality, and expand benefits.

"The state of Oregon has become a creative hub and we are very happy to be working with Freelancers Union," said Jack Friedman, chief executive of Providence Health Plan. "Through this partnership we will be able to serve the health care needs of Oregon's families."

Freelancers Union will sponsor the CO-OP, which includes submitting the application, facilitating the start-up and providing the expertise to help get the CO-OP off the ground. Providence Health Plan will work behind the scenes on administrative services and provide access to providers and hospitals.

"The CO-OP is an innovative way to bring health care to the whole state, and we are eager to work with Providence," said Sara Horowitz, founder and executive director of Freelancers Union. "With our decade of experience providing benefits to independent workers, and Providence's extensive network of health care services and innovative patient-centered medical home model, we are well-positioned to change the face of health care in Oregon."

The CO-OP intends to start enrolling customers in October 2013, and to begin offering benefits in January 2014. It is estimated that the CO-OP will insure more than 35,000 Oregon workers within the first five years of enrollment.

In addition to the Oregon CO-OP, Freelancers Union is also sponsoring CO-OPs in New York and New Jersey.