Credit Unions Put Obamacare Into Action
Despite technical glitches, long wait times and multiple crashes with the launch of the HealthCare.gov website last fall, many credit unions are doing their best to help members navigate through the changes.
CoOportunity Health recently announced that it eclipsed the 50,000 enrollment mark for individuals and groups in Nebraska and Iowa, said Scott Sullivan, CEO of the Nebraska Credit Union League. The Nebraska league, along with the Iowa Credit Union League, signed on with the Des Moines, Iowa-based entity that provides insurance options through broker Group Benefits Ltd., in Urbandale, Iowa.
“Even with all the national press surrounding the issues related to the Marketplace website we had virtually no complaints from credit unions or their members,” Sullivan said. “I think everyone understood it was a government problem, not a credit union problem. Working together, CoOportunity and credit unions took a proactive approach and headed off a lot of the frustrations.”
CoOportunity Health is one of 24 co-ops approved nationwide offering access to health insurance providers under the ACA, according to the leagues.
Sullivan said once the current enrollment period ends, the leagues will be working with the co-op to better determine the role the credit union partnership played in their enrollment figures.
Last week, the White House said the website created under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act experienced an increase in traffic weeks before the March 31 enrollment deadline. For the uninsured that don't sign up by then, they will have to pay a penalty of $95 or 1% of their income, whichever is greater, through their 2014 tax filing.
The $57 million Advantage Credit Union in Newton, Iowa, was one of 46 credit unions in Iowa and Nebraska that signed on last summer with CoOportunity Health.
“Our whole reason for being involved was to offer a means for everyone to look at insurance options that they didn't have before,” said Corinne Coyle, president/CEO of Advantage CU. “My concern was there was going to be fraudulent companies out there trying to convince people to come sign on. I want members to be able to come to us and be comfortable.”
While Coyle wouldn't provide figures on the number of members who signed on with CoOportunity Health, she did acknowledge that glitches with the healthcare.gov site may have discouraged some from enrolling.
“Let's face it, it wasn't the prettiest launch when open enrollment began,” said Jim Niederhauser, vice president of member services at the Iowa league. “It was pretty disruptive and I think would have lessened some of the momentum established.”
However, the league is committed to an opportunity for credit unions to assist their members with their health and well-being choices, Niederhauser said. CoOportunity Health has exceeded its expectations in terms of number of policies of sold, he added.
In a debut year of sweeping changes in national health insurance requirements, there's going to be learning curves and discoveries, Niederhauser said. The true tests will come as the system grows more stable.
“Credit unions are in the forefront of something new. Members are navigating through unchartered territory. Looking down the road, we’re excited about what's ahead and how we can improve the model,” he offered.
In early 2013, core 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 insurance carriers and a resource for the new health care reform requirements. There are currently five charter credit unions that are actively using the CUEB and another 20 moving towards adoption, said Bruce Clapp, EPL chief marketing and sales officer.
“We did hear many stories of issues with those that tried to access the federal and state exchanges. However, CUEB is a private exchange operated by insurance professionals built for credit unions and their members (and) offers a wider selection of health plans and options to help protect families,” said Clapp.
While March 31 is the official end of this year's open enrollment season, there are a number of situations that can create a special enrollment period for an individual, including the loss of group coverage if a company decides to drop its health plan, Clapp explained. In July 2013, the White House said it would extend the deadline for businesses with more than 50 employers to provide health care coverage from 2014 to 2015.
The $244 million Peach State Federal Credit Union in Lawrenceville, Ga., is a 25-year client and EPL owner.Through the company, the cooperative rolled out its Peach State Insurance Marketplace on Jan. 1 for members and non-members offering individual and family coverage plans, said Laura Ryll, EVP/COO at Peach State FCU. The credit union earns a small amount of revenue based on what plan the member purchases, she pointed out.
“From a business development perspective, we are also letting our select employee groups know about Peach State Insurance Marketplace as a tool for their benefit needs,” said Ryll.
In other parts of the country, credit unions have formed additional health insurance partnerships.
Last July, employee benefits provider Digital Insurance partnered with the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association to help credit union employees and members navigate the new health reforms.
Through Digital Benefit Advisors, a division of Atlanta-based Digital Insurance, Pennsylvania's credit unions have access to a broader variety of carriers and resources, including tools that enable employers to assist human resource departments and better understand health care reform, according to the PCUA. Digital Insurance is a wholly owned subsidiary of Fidelity National Financial.
Consumers Mutual Insurance of Michigan was also created in 2013 to offer health insurance to low- and moderate-income residents and small businesses in need of low cost insurance options. The East Lansing, Mich.-based firm said it received $72 million in a federal loan as part of the Affordable Care Act to become a Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan health insurer, operating much as a statewide credit union where interests of members control company decisions.