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January 14, 2008

Health Cooperatives Gain National Attention

US Senator Norm Coleman (MN), Wisconsin State Senator Sheila Harsdorf adn Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives President, Bill Oemichen.

U.S. Senator Norm Coleman (MN) speaks with Wisconsin State Senator Sheila Harsdorf and Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives President Bill Oemichen following testimony at the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship. Harsdorf and Oemichen appeared to discuss Health Care Cooperatives, a Wisconsin health care reform that has drawn national attention.

St. Paul, MN...Wisconsin State Senator Sheila Harsdorf (R – River Falls) joined Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives (WFC) President Bill Oemichen at a U.S. Senate field hearing in St. Paul concerning “Affordable Healthcare: A Big Problem for Small Businesses.”  The April 2007 statewide launch of the Farmers Health Cooperative of Wisconsin (FHCW) has gained national exposure as a model for health care reform.

Harsdorf authored legislation in 2003 to enable the creation of health care cooperatives in Wisconsin and worked for years with WFC to fight for necessary support to provide affordable health care for farmers and agri-businesses throughout Wisconsin.  Harsdorf recently completed her service as an interim board member for FHCW.  Regional health care cooperatives for other small businesses are being created in Wisconsin to help lower costs and expand benefits for their members.

"The WFC Co-op Care project offers a private sector solution to the health insurance problems facing small employers,” Oemichen testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.  “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.  This in turn allows the cooperative to negotiate higher quality coverage, improve benefit choices, and utilize cost and quality data to educate members about cost drivers and ensure that rate increases are in line with claims experience.”

By enabling individuals and businesses to purchase health care as a group under such cooperatives, buying power that expands options and stabilizes prices can be achieved. 

“Consumer-driven reforms, such as health cooperatives, can be effective in reducing costs for small businesses,” said Harsdorf.  “I am pleased that this state reform is serving as a model for addressing health care costs and look forward to helping expand these innovative cooperatives.”

Harsdorf is currently working with regional Western Wisconsin business leaders to explore their interest in such cooperatives.