In the heat of the health reform negotiations two years ago, Democrats sacrificed the public option for a program that tasted like weak tea to liberal critics: the small and relatively cheap health insurance cooperatives meant to compete with major insurers around the country.
Despite the initial declarations of irrelevance, though, groups in at least 20 states are now scrambling ahead of an Oct. 17 deadline to apply for the first round of $3.8 billion in funding to start Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans, called CO-OPs.
The efforts are as different as the states where they’re brewing, from rural Montana, where the state’s former insurance commissioner has joined prominent physicians and leaders in labor and business to found a CO-OP, to The Freelancers Union, based in New York, which hopes to bring in some portion of its 150,000 members, among others.
“The $3.8 billion of social capital to start these up is as much money as I’ve seen or expect to see in my lifetime for a project like this,” said Sara Horowitz, executive director of The Freelancers Union. “Not having to meet the return on investment expectations of private capital can make all the difference.”