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New Kentucky Health Cooperative offers option in health insurance plans

Janie Miller, Kentucky Health Cooperative
Janie Miller, Kentucky Health Cooperative BRIAN BOHANNON

Amid the familiar sounding names of companies offering insurance in Kentucky under the Affordable Care Act, there is a new player.

The Kentucky Health Cooperative was not only designed to be a part of the ACA, it was created by a provision within the law.

What further sets it apart is that it is a nonprofit and 51 percent of its board of directors will be customers.

"I really like the fact that it is nonprofit," said CEO Janie Miller, the former head of state Department for Health and Family Services. The nonprofit status allows "you to give the focus to what you are doing and why you are doing it," she said, adding that "makes a difference."

Kentucky is one of 24 states to have formed co-ops, she said. The group received federal loans for $11.9 million in start-up funds and $46.8 in operational funds.

The Kentucky Health Cooperative is offering insurance in all of Kentucky's 120 counties. The other four carriers taking part in the state program — Anthem, UnitedHealthcare, Humana, Bluegrass Family Health — have the option to not serve some regions. In Kentucky, like in other rural states, there can be limited coverage options in some areas, Miller explained.

Co-ops are not new, she said.

Kentucky's co-op is modeled on co-ops in Washington state, Minnesota and Wisconsin which have hundreds of thousands of members.

"Clearly, the co-op presents a competitive choice," said Miller last week, adding she couldn't release the co-op insurance rates before open enrollment in the state program, KyNect, begins on Oct. 1. (The state website for health insurance information is Kynect.ky.gov.)

"We don't know all of their competitors rates," she said, but "we definitely have priced our products to be competitive."

The co-op has to make enough be able to pay back the federal loans over time, she said.

While it's hard to estimate how many of the 640,000 Kentuckians newly eligible for health insurance will sign up, Miller predicts about 75 percent of the 300,000 not eligible for Medicaid will sign up by Dec. 15. If that happens, their policies will take go into effect on Jan. 1.

Miller sees providing better care to Kentuckians as a long-needed step to improving the overall health of people in the Commonwealth and she hopes to attract clients to the new venture.

"This is a huge step forward," she said. "We have a lot of work to do in improving health care in Kentucky."

That includes convincing people that having day-to-day health coverage is beneficial. Although the ACA requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance, Miller said market research conducted by the co-op showed that "people don't necessarily view health insurance as an asset."

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