Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives: President Bush Signs Omnibus Budget Bill

Contact: Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives, 608.258.4400

Co-op Care Will Receive Much-Needed Appropriations for ‘Stop-Loss’ Fund

MADISON, Wis.—With his signature on the FY2005 federal budget appropriations bill, President George W. Bush on Dec. 7 made official the $2.25 million earmarked for Co-op Care, a Wisconsin and Minnesota health care cooperative being developed to increase access to affordable health benefit plans.

The provision was sponsored in the Senate and House appropriations committees by U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Congressman Dave Obey (D-Wis.), and was strongly supported by other members of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation. The federal funding will be used for the establishment and administration of a ‘stop loss fund’ that will help diminish the high-risk label insurers have attached to many farmers and small business owners. The Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives (WFC) is seeking additional financial support from a number of private foundations.

“We are very pleased Co-op Care was among the projects funded. The fund will help pay for some of the higher-cost claims incurred by cooperative members, which will in turn help stabilize premium rates over a number of a years. Bringing some stability to costs has been a priority of the Co-op Care project,” explains Bill Oemichen, WFC President and CEO. WFC worked to develop the Co-op Care project to address the health care affordability and accessibility issues of many Wisconsin residents.
Co-op Care creates up to five health care purchasing cooperatives in both rural and urban areas of Wisconsin that would bring farmers and other small employers together under the cooperative umbrella to contract with insurers for health care coverage. As part of a larger group, cooperative members would have the leverage to negotiate better quality coverage, improve health care delivery, stabilize insurance rates and provide access to care for those who are currently not covered by an insurance policy. Because cooperatives are member-owned businesses, each participant would have input into the health care decisions made by the cooperative.

Co-op Care also requires that consumers be informed about health care cost drivers to help members find innovative solutions to control health costs. “Under Co-op Care, if health insurance rates go up, cooperative members are going to know why,” Oemichen said. “They’ll also get the information they need to lower costs when possible, and avoid the situations that make health insurance unaffordable for many people.”

Oemichen says the co-op model lends itself well to a problem that has been recognized in recent years by policymakers at both the federal and state level. “’Co-op Care’ will empower consumers and give them the tools to address issues such as accessibility and affordability,” he says. “We think it’s time to apply the success of the cooperative model to finding a solution to today’s health care crisis.”

Additional information on Co-op Care can be found at the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives website, at http://www.wfcmac.coop.

The Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives, headquartered in Madison, Wis., is the statewide association involved in lobbying, education, public relations and technical services for a wide variety of cooperatives, including farm supply, health, dairy marketing, consumer, credit, livestock marketing, telephone, electric, housing, insurance, cable communications, worker-owned and more.