HELENA -- The Montana Health Cooperative, a new nonprofit health insurer established with help from the federal government, announced Thursday that it has obtained its operating license from state insurance regulators.
Jerry Dworak, the co-op's president, said the license is "another significant step towards creation of a consumer-focused, nonprofit health insurance plan that will provide Montanans with higher-quality, lower-cost, more coordinated health care."
The co-op, created under the auspices of the 2010 federal health reform law, should be up and running by next October, he said.
The Montana co-op is one of several nonprofit health insurers being developed around the country, with initial financing from the federal government. It has a $58 million federal loan to help it get off the ground.
The co-ops are supposed to act as new, nonprofit competitors in states that have been dominated by only a few private health insurers.
The Montana co-op plans to sell its policies on the new state health insurance exchanges, which will be Internet marketplaces for citizens required to buy insurance by 2014. Citizens who want federal subsidies to help them afford individual policies must buy policies off the exchange.
State Auditor Monica Lindeen, the state's insurance commissioner, granted the co-op's certificate of authority after examining the group's operation plans, the co-op said.
The co-op has said it hopes to have 10,000 customers within its first year and 40,000 by its third year, enabling it to be financially viable.
The co-op is governed by a 15-member board of directors, which includes Montana health and insurance industry officials, labor leaders, business people and attorneys. Its board chairman is Tom Roberts, a physician and president of the Western Montana Clinic in Missoula.
"We believe Montana Health Co-op will set the new standard for health care and coverage in the coming years, and this certificate paves the way for us to begin doing business," Roberts said. ___