Common Ground health plan enrollment surges to 2,200

by Rich Kirchen for Milwaukee Business Journal

December 11, 2013

Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative, a creature of an Obamacare initiative for nonprofit customer-owned health plans, has enrolled more than 2,200 Wisconsinites so far — and 75 percent to 80 percent of them enrolled via the online health-insurance marketplace.

Bob De Vita, chief executive officer of Brookfield-based Common Ground, said he is confident the co-op will meet his goal of signing 10,000 people by the end of 2014.

“I would say with 19 counties in our service area, we’re going to be able to eclipse that,” he told an audience at the Milwaukee Press Club downtown at a luncheon Wednesday. “It’s a bold statement to make, but I think we’re going to do it.”

The figures De Vita disclosed indicate Common Ground has a sizable share of the early-stage health insurance marketplace in Wisconsin.

The number of Wisconsinites enrolling for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s online marketplace, or exchange, reached 5,303 as of Nov. 30, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A state official gave a larger number Dec. 10, saying that more than 7,000 people have enrolled.

Common Ground has established a narrow network that includes all of the Aurora Health Care hospital clinics in eastern Wisconsin and a wide network with the other health care systems administered by Trilogy Health of Brookfield. Rates for the narrow network are about 15 percent cheaper than the wide network, De Vita said.

After initial news media reports on the trickle of people able to sign up via the marketplace, Common Ground has seen a surge in activity, De Vita said. Membership — because it’s a co-op, Common Ground calls policyholders members — has escalated from 142 the first month after open enrollment started to the current 2,200.

People are enrolling online, through about 500 insurance agents and by directly contacting Common Ground, De Vita said.

The American public needs to be patient about how well the online marketplace is functioning, De Vita said. He said Medicaid encountered problems as well when it added prescription benefits via Medicare Part D nearly a decade ago.

“Was (the launch) successful? Heck no,” De Vita said. “I’m just telling you the trend is it’s getting more active. Success comes when you’ve been in business for a while.”

The co-op De Vita runs was launched by community activist organization Common Ground of Milwaukee. The cooperative received a federal loan of up to $54.6 million.

Common Ground is one of a handful of insurers selling on the individual market in southeastern Wisconsin and the only one selling in the small-group online marketplace in southeastern Wisconsin.

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