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Florida Missed Out on Consumer Co-ops

One of the most innovative parts of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- a loan program to start consumer health-care cooperatives -- died this week, a victim of the fiscal cliff deal. 

Of the two dozen co-ops in as many states that got funding, none was in Florida.

PPACA's Consumer Oriented and Operated Plans (CO-OPs) are non-profit member-owned insurers or managed-care plans that were created to expand competition and try out new ideas in health care. 

As Kaiser Health Newsreported, the PPACA originally included $6 billion for co-ops, but that was slashed to $3.8 billion in 2011.  Half of that was lent out before the fiscal cliff deal was reached this week.

The elimination of funding for co-ops was no coincidence, according to John Morrison, president of the National Alliance of State Health Cooperatives. He said the health insurance industry torpedoed the funds to eliminate the competition, and the co-ops were caught by surprise, "blindsided."

During the debate that led up to passage of the 2010 law, some liberals opposed co-op funds because what they really wanted was a single-payer health plan, similar to Canada's. But after they became part of PPACA, many former opponents became supporters.

Former health insurance executive Wendell Potter, who wrote about the co-ops in May for theCenter for Public Integrity,   praised them as a refreshing opportunity for a true alternative to corporate health insurance.

The idea isn't new.  Group Health Cooperative, which has operated as a member-owned health plan for more than 60 years, consistently ranks as one of the highest-ranking plans in the country for quality and efficiency.

The list of plans that received funds before the cutoff is at this site.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.