Colorado CO-OP shows how nonprofit insurers are disrupting markets

The consumer operated and oriented plan (CO-OP) in Colorado exemplifies how nonprofit insurers are disrupting health insurance markets across the country. 

Colorado HealthOP enrolled 14,000 members last year, primarily by undercutting the lowest prices for plans sold on the state's health insurance exchange. And the CO-OP has lowered its exchange plan premiums by an average of 10 percent for the second enrollment period that began this week, reported the Denver Post.

But because of Colorado HealthOP's low prices, subsidies will likely decrease significantly for many consumers since they're tied to states' second lowest cost silver plan. The nonprofit insurer's low premiums, therefore, could be lowering subsidies by as much as 77 percent.

"It's definitely disruptive," Tom Crennen, president of, told the newspaper. "But this is what (the CO-OP) was set up to do--to breed competition."

Indeed, Colorado HealthOP isn't the only CO-OP insurer making waves in its market. All told, CO-OPs enrolled 450,000 members across the country and many have expanded into new areas this year. One particularly successful CO-OP was CoOportunity Health of Iowa and Nebraska, which enrolled more than 35,000 members in three months and earned $127 million, as FierceHealthPayer reported.

And many CO-OPs are expanding their business. Montana Health Co-op, for example, started selling plans in Idaho, and Maine Community Health Options expanded coverage into New Hampshire's exchange after enrolling 83 percent of Maine consumers who signed up last year.

Addressing critics claiming that Colorado HealthOP aggressively priced its plans to boost its market share, CEO Julia Hutchins said CO-OPs have a fundamentally different approach to providing insurance coverage. "We're a nonprofit. We're not trying to buy anything," she told the Denver Post. "We were created to serve everybody."

She added that Colorado HealthOP isn't singly responsible for any market uncertainty or upheaval, especially considering how health plans have been guessing upcoming rates. 

To learn more:
- read the Denver Post article