Co-ops can indeed be cost-effective, asserts Julia Hutchins, CEO of Colorado Health Op, a Denver-based co-op.
Because the Obamacare health insurance co-ops are starting fresh, she
says they don't face the potentially costly transition to paperless systems that many older health insurers are facing.
insists co-ops will be able to emphasize the sorts of things that can help bring down costs, such as wellness programs and preventive care.
"For the typical member, a co-op will most likely work a lot like their private insurer currently does, but with some key differences," Hutchins
While professional administrators will carry out day-to-day functions, members (that is, the consumers) will help shape policy by electing boards and giving input through regular surveys.
"The members are my bosses," Hutchins
"Not the shareholders."
Though co-ops will be available in only about half the states in 2014, co-op members will be able to use their coverage in their home state and elsewhere, she
"Just like a private insurance company, we have the ability to contract with providers and establish rates for out-of-network service," Hutchins
And what about the network -- and your selection of doctors?
It may depend on where you live.
"In rural areas, they may not have a lot of choice because there aren't a lot of providers," Hutchins
When sizing up a health insurance co-op, Hutchins
advises consumers to consider more than just price.
"One of the most important things is benefit design," she
"Thankfully, the exchanges will help consumers do an apples-to-apples comparison so they understand what all the different plans will and won't cover."
says customer service is important, too.
The hope is that a more transparent marketplace will eventually allow consumers to shop for health insurance by looking not only at price and benefits, but also at how quickly claims and disputes are dealt with, and how easily a customer service rep can be reached on the phone.
"We won't have ratings on service just yet because exchanges are new," she