Credit Unions Dispense Obamacare Assistance
Since announcing their alliance with CoOportunity Health in June, the Iowa and Nebraska Credit Union Leagues have been training and educating credit unions about what the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act means for members.
Between the two states, 45 credit unions have signed on with CoOportunity Health, a Des Moines, Iowa-based cooperative that offers insurance options through broker Group Benefits Ltd., in Urbandale, Iowa, according to Murray Williams, chief operating officer at the Iowa Credit Union League and chief administrative officer with Affiliates Management Co.
“Every credit union has identified a point person to lead this initiative. The Affordable Care Act was new to them, just like everyone else,” Williams said. “So, there’s been education on what the changes are, what’s going on with health insurance and why it’s all important to members.”
On Oct. 1, an estimated 50 million uninsured Americans gained access to Healthcare Insurance Marketplaces operated by the federal government and some states. The sites allow those qualified to apply for health insurance online, view a list of plans and determine qualification for a federal tax credit that would decrease policy costs. The enrollment period will remain open until March 31, 2014. Coverage will start Jan. 1, 2014.
Those who don’t have insurance coverage by Jan. 1 will face a tax penalty of $95 for individual adults or 1% of their income, whichever is higher.
For the most part, members have been asking about their options, Williams said. The new health care reform act offers credit unions the opportunity to be trusted advisers to help navigate through the changes, he added.
Those credit unions and leagues that partner with CoOportunity Health will receive a modest referral fee to help offset the administrative costs associated with the partnership, Williams said. However, he pointed out that the goal of the alliance is not to make money, but rather, to provide differentiated, consumer-friendly product to members at a time of great confusion and need.
Because there were some restrictions on how co-ops could brand and market themselves prior to the debut of the healthcare insurance marketplace, Williams said only time will tell how many members sign on through CoOportunity Health.
“Health insurance has typically not been an area credit unions have focused on,” Williams said. “However, now, more than ever, physical and financial well-being goes hand in hand. It’s becoming a much larger portion of a family’s expenses.”
Like many in the industry, offering insurance products is not a new venture for the $325 million Greater Iowa Credit Union in Ames, Iowa, said Michael Adams, vice president of marketing. However, because of the new health care law, the cooperative saw this entry as an opportunity to build on its goal of being a one-stop shop for it members and to provide education along the way.
“There’s an incredible hunger out there for information. The Affordable Care Act is a very complicated piece of business,” said Adams, who was tapped the point person to lead the effort at his credit union. Adams said he attended several training sessions with CoOportunity Health that taught participants, among other things, how to identify members who might be interested in signing on the exchange.
Greater Iowa CU recently updated its website with CoOportunity Health promotions and an article in its fourth quarter member newsletter, Adams said.
“I tell staff members to try and keep it simple. They don’t have to go into lengthy discussions about PPA,” Adams explained.
In Nebraska, 17 credit unions signed up during the initial stage, said Scott Sullivan, CEO of the Nebraska Credit Union League.
“The feedback regarding our partnership had been extremely positive from credit unions,” Sullivan said. “They appreciate the opportunity to work with a ‘best in class’ health care organization to help their members address their health care questions and needs.”
The Nebraska league’s partnership with CoOportunity Health will better enable credit unions and their members to navigate the new law, Sullivan noted.
Next Page: Leagues Link Up
Over the summer, the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association linked up with Digital Benefit Advisors, the largest division of the Atlanta-based Digital Insurance, for the state’s credit unions to have access to a broader variety of carriers and resources. The PCUA had a health insurance program in place for more than 20 years before transitioning over to its new partner, said Corinne Sherman, PCUA senior vice president of fee services.
“The biggest thing for us has been a high level of education to the masses but primarily, what healthcare reform has done is to develop individual strategies more than ever before,” Sherman said.
That means rather than the PCUA taking a one-size-fits-all approach, through webinars and one-on-one meetings, the association is offering customized attention so that credit unions can ensure they are making the right plan choices, said Michael Wishnow, PCUA senior vice president of communications and marketing.
About 200 Pennsylvania credit unions are signed on with Digital Benefit Advisors, Sherman said. The company provides an online portal through which credit unions can navigate to find the right plan.
Earlier this year, data system and technology solutions provider EPL Inc., in Birmingham, Ala., launched the Credit Union Exchange Blueprint, a private exchange for credit unions and members that provides online access to carriers and a resource for new requirements.
While the company sent out reminder notices and summary plans a week before the Oct. 1 national enrollment date, EPL has been working for quite some time to get the word out, said Cathy Hulsey, vice president of human resources.
And, EPL did some number crunching of its own to see how employees would fare buying from the health insurance marketplace compared to having its own insurance plan, Hulsey said.
“We are in that sweet spot of 50 to 150 employees so we have to do the analysis of determining what’s best for the employees and company,” Hulsey said. “Open enrollment is going well and we should know next month once we get our carrier information and costs which way to proceed.”
Cliff Gold, chief operating officer at CoOportunity Health, said besides credit unions being viewed as trusted advisers when it comes to helping their members, there is another familiar opportunity for them to build on.
“I think that people who are underinsured are most likely underbanked,” Gold said. “This partnership gives credit unions an avenue to not only provide insurance but (the underbanked) can have access to loans and other credit union products.”