Senator Kent Conrad recently introduced what he characterized as a compromise on the contentious issue of having a public plan under healthcare reform: a healthcare co-op. This interview with Milliman principal Jim O’Connor analyzes the co-op concept in more detail.
Q: What is a co-op and how does it differ from a public option?
A: A cooperative health plan, or co-op, is member-controlled rather than government-controlled, and is typically not a for-profit corporation. A co-op must negotiate its payment or reimbursement rates for hospitals and physicians in the market, and cannot dictate them through legislation and regulation like the government could under a public plan. With a co-op, the roles of government regulator and health plan providing coverage are kept separate. The co-op concept is oriented around member decision-making and control, distinguishing it from for-profit insurance carriers. Because it would compete against for-profit and other heath carriers, however, a co-op must offer products that are attractive to the public in a marketplace with choices and must employ prudent rating and enrollment practices if it is to be successful. Determining any requirements or restrictions on those practices, as they apply to all health plans, is one of the many important questions under reform.