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WFC CEO Addresses U.S. Senate Committee on Rural Health Care Issues
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 01/11/2008

The President and CEO of the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives testified on Thursday before the U.S. Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee on health care solutions for small businesses. Bill Oemichen addressed support for federal reforms that would help small employers, including farmers, gain access to affordable, quality health insurance coverage.

"We believe the member-owned cooperative model that puts consumers in charge of their own health decisions is the perfect fit for health care," said Oemichen.

With the support of its member cooperatives, WFC created a project called 'Co-op Care' to allow small employers, including farmers, to join together to purchase health insurance as a large group. They successfully sought passage of enabling legislation in both Minnesota and Wisconsin to provide a Co-op Care model, and have since worked to establish health care purchasing cooperatives in both Wisconsin and Minnesota aimed at farmers and small businesses.

"When compared to the large group market, small employers and especially farmers buying health insurance face greater challenges: stricter underwriting, fewer choices, lower quality benefits and little or no data upon which to base informed decisions. Bringing small employers together under the cooperative umbrella allows the cooperative, governed by a board of directors made up of members buying insurance, to negotiate directly with insurers or providers similar to a large employer," said Oemichen. "This in turn allows the cooperative to negotiate higher quality coverage, improve benefit choices, relax underwriting criteria if it so chooses and utilize cost and quality data to educate members about cost drivers and ensure that rate increases are in line with claims experience."

WFC serve more than 800 member-cooperatives owned by more than 6.3 million Minnesota and Wisconsin residents by providing lobbying, education, public relations and technical services for a wide variety of cooperatives including farm supply, health, dairy marketing, consumer, credit, livestock marketing, telephone, electric, housing, insurance, cable communications, worker-owned cooperatives, and more.

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