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Our View: Regional health insurance co-op offers hope

Efforts to bring a health co-op program to northwest Wisconsin may hold the key for small businesses hoping to have and/or offer health coverage to employees.

Cooperative Health Choices of Western Wisconsin was formed in late 2008, and organizers are optimistic to get the plan up and running later this year.

In fact, anyone interested in the effort is invited to be part of a webcast scheduled for Thursday, May 14, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Prospective members of CHC can go to or to participate in the webcast.

Bill Rubin, executive director of the St. Croix County Economic Development Corp., has been very active in assisting a steering committee in getting the concept off the ground.

Rubin said the co-op model is similar to what people did a couple of generations ago when they sought electricity and telephone service for their rural homes. Essentially individuals (in this case, single business owners, or small businesses) can organize into one large group and receive the benefits of group buying power - in this case health insurance.

The health co-op is a relatively new development, brought about by legislation put forward in 2003 and 2005. State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, has been instrumental in championing the effort.

There are skeptics to co-op insurance plans. Detractors claim co-op pools may be left with just the people who are high risks. But a similar organization near Green Bay has already started operation and is very successful.

In actuality, co-op health coverage could be a godsend for small businesses - everything from sole proprietors to small corporations. It is also available to other small operations, including the self-employed, partnerships, for-profit corporations, non-profit corporations, trade and labor organizations, rural utility co-ops and local units of government.

The geographic area covers 17 counties, so if all goes well, the co-op could have substantial buying power when it comes time to seek bids for health insurance coverage.

Don't forget the webcast set for May 14. For more information, contact Rubin, (715) 381-4383, or steering committee chair Steve Healy, (715) 781-9081.