Insurance upstart captures 10 percent of exchange market

By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon

The Colorado HealthOP, a new member-run health insurance co-op, said nearly 7,500 patients have signed up so far for its new health insurance plans.

“It’s really a vote of confidence for a consumer-operated health plan. People are interested in taking control of their health and health care, and are hungry for a different model,” said Julia Hutchins, CEO of the HealthOP.

The HealthOP is the only insurance carrier in Colorado to release its enrollment numbers since Colorado’s exchange opened on Oct. 1. Both Colorado’s health exchange, Connect for Health Colorado, and the Colorado Association of Health Plans declined to release other industry enrollment numbers. Altogether about 67,000 individuals or small business employees have bought private plans through Colorado’s exchange as of late January.

Marc Reece, associate director of the Colorado Association of Health Plans, said it makes sense that the HealthOP wants to publicize its success and viability as the new kid on the block.

On the day Colorado's health exchange launched, Colorado HealthOP sent barely dressed models to Denver's 16th Street Mall to urge people to "get covered."

On the day Colorado’s health exchange launched, Colorado HealthOP sent barely dressed models to Denver’s 16th Street Mall to urge people to “get covered.”

“I’m not surprised,” Reece said of their market share. “If you look at their prices, they’re highly competitive.”

Reece expects a more complete picture of enrollments from other health insurance carriers when the deadline to sign up for this year passes on March 31.

Hutchins said she wanted to release early numbers because transparency is part of the HealthOP’s business model.

“Typically there isn’t a lot of transparency in health insurance about the cost of care,” she said. “A lot of people are still choosing to enroll. We thought it would be helpful for them to know that other people are choosing the HealthOP.”

Hutchins said the market share is closely tracking the HealthOPs projections from about two years ago. She attributes the early success to both price and benefits.

“We have unique benefit designs that reward people for taking steps to be healthy and access preventive care. And we’d like to think it (our success) has to do with being member-run. That’s something people feel good about,” she said.

Of the 7,438 people who have signed up through Colorado’s health exchange for the HealthOP, the average age is 39 and many of them live in Boulder, Summit, Park and Denver counties, Hutchins said.

Boulder County has the highest share of new co-op members with 27 percent of sign-ups.  In Summit County, residents have complained of high costs for health insurance and that could make affordable options through the HealthOP especially attractive. About 22 percent of the HealthOP’s sign-ups have come in Summit while another 22 percent have come in neighboring Park County. About 12 percent of the 7,438 members live in Denver.

The HealthOP released an endorsement from a member named Brian Novak of Denver. He said he hasn’t always had a positive outlook on health insurance. As a diabetic and cancer survivor, he has struggled with his health and with getting quality health coverage.

“When I started researching (on the exchange), I couldn’t find anything that worked for me,” Novak, 41, told the HealthOP.

“I was intrigued by the idea of a nonprofit health insurance company. It resonated with me because they are proactive about keeping members costs down and member health a priority. This was a very different approach to health care than I had experienced with other insurance companies. It made sense.”



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