by Guy Boulton for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

February 21, 2012

Common Ground, a coalition of religious groups and other organizations, has been awarded a $56.4 million federal loan to start a nonprofit health insurer that would be run by its members.

The money is part of $3.8 billion included federal health care reform to help start nonprofit health insurers, similar to cooperatives, to compete in the market for individuals and small businesses.

The loans are to help the nonprofit health insurers - referred to as CO-OPs, for Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans - with start-up costs and to meet requirements that insurers maintain minimum reserves to pay claims.

The loans for start-up costs must be repaid in 5 years and the loans for reserves in 15 years.

Common Ground, which also includes some unions and a few small businesses, is the Milwaukee affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation, founded in 1940 by Saul Alinsky, a well-known community organizer. The organization, based in Chicago, bills itself as the oldest and largest community organizing network.

Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative initially will operate in southeastern Wisconsin but expand throughout the state in five years, according to a news release from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The goal stated in the federal health care law is to fund one CO-OP in each state.

To date, seven nonprofits offering coverage in eight states have been awarded $638.7 million.

Other nonprofit organizations receiving loans include: Freelancers CO-OP of Oregon; New Mexico Health Connections; Montana Health Cooperative; Midwest Members Health; Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative; Freelancers CO-OP of New Jersey; and Freelancers Health Service Corp.

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