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Health News Florida

FL Needs Consumer Co-op for Coverage: Nelson

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Sen. Bill Nelson, a key player in passing the Affordable Care Act, put an Obama administration official on the hot seat Thursday for dropping a co-op grant program before 26 states -- including Florida -- could get one.

As Phil Galewitz of Kaiser Health News reported, Nelson's beef came up at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee. 

The Florida Democrat deplored the action as fiscally foolish, noting that consumer CO-OPs (Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans) are expected to offer coverage for 10 to 15 percent below the cost of private insurers.

"What are we going to do to get those other 26 states into the system?" he demanded, according to a transcript.

Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said essentially there wasn't much he could do about it now.

“Well, Senator, what I’m going to do is to make sure that the 24 CO-OPs that we have funded are successful and demonstrate the results that you are talking about in terms of providing additional competition and lowering costs in the health market," he said. "That’s what I can do at this point.”

Nelson told Chairman Max Baucus that he wants to know whose decision it was to put the CO-OP program on the chopping block on Dec. 31 "fiscal cliff" negotiations with Republicans to avoid shut-down of the government. Baucus said, "All right, we'll have to get to the bottom of this."

President John Morrison of the National Alliance of State Health CO-OPs said Nelson"hit the bull's eye" in a statement released after the hearing.

"Unless Congress reverses this mistake, Florida, Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Georgia and many other states will be deprived of CO-OPs that could provide them with an affordable, high-quality, and member-governed health insurance option. "

The Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight is part of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.