Aug. 10--LEWISTON -- A new nonprofit health insurer is planning to set up shop at the Bates Mill and bring with it two dozen jobs over the next year and a half.
Maine Community Health Options is a co-op health insurer founded by the Maine Primary Care Association, a statewide network of nonprofit community health centers. Unlike traditional health insurance companies, which sell customers an insurance plan and set the rules those customers must abide by, the co-op will be run by and for its customers, to be called "subscribers."
Board members will set the co-op's policies. Those board members will be elected by subscribers and half of the board will be subscribers.
"We hope that people do look at it as they essentially own a piece of it and that everyone's collective actions can result in a better product, a better outcome," CEO Kevin Lewis said.
MCHO plans to focus on providing health insurance to individuals and small businesses. If MCHO receives the required state license, it will be the first health insurance co-op in Maine.
Organizers have received a $62.1 million loan from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Of that, $7.1 million is earmarked for the co-op's development and $55 million will go to reserves and to show solvency for its state license. The smaller amount must be paid back within five years and the larger amount must be paid back within 15.
MCHO is still in the early stages of development. Although organizers have spoken with the Maine Bureau of Insurance, they have not yet applied for a license. Lewis said they hope to do that soon and to receive a license this fall.
MCHO also has not yet leased business space, though organizers are in negotiations to lease 10,000 square feet on the third floor of the Bates Mill, two floors above DaVinci's Eatery. Although organizers on Thursday will hold a news conference at Bates Mill to announce the new business, Lewis was doubtful a lease would be signed by then.
He said organizers considered basing MCHO elsewhere in central Maine, but they liked Lewiston best.
"Lewiston is more centrally located than the headquarters of a lot of other health plans," Lewis said. "Lewiston also has a lot to offer in terms of a reviving downtown, a nice sense of community, certainly the trail system and the concentration of services. Being in L-A, downtown, is attractive, I think, for any employee base."
MCHO plans to employ 10 people by the end of the year and 25 people by January 2014. Those jobs will largely entail office work, including plan administration.
If everything goes as organizers hope, MCHO will begin enrolling subscribers Oct. 1, 2013, and its health insurance will activate January 1, 2014.
Health insurance co-ops are a new kind of health insurer created under the federal Affordable Care Act. In an effort to encourage the creation of co-ops, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has awarded $1.4 billion in loans to 18 co-ops in 18 states.
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