Michelle Mooney and Harry Moseley slush through the snow and ice, bundled up in heavy winter coats and boots, cold calling small businesses and residents on Milwaukee’s east side.
The 70-somethings, with clipboards and fliers in hand, are not lawn care salesmen or religious missionaries.
Rather, they are members of a volunteer foot army that has canvassed much of the city during the last several months, telling individuals and small business owners about the Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative, a new nonprofit insurance company.
“It’s so exciting to be involved in something that is seeking justice for people and encouraging people to get for themselves what they need,” said Mooney before she and Moseley visited businesses along Downer Avenue.
The Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative is a member-owned, member-governed insurance company with policies available to Milwaukee residents on the federal Affordable Care Act marketplace.
“We are not lining the pockets of fat cats in Minnesota as we make decisions that affect people’s lives,” said Moseley, noting that a board of governors composed of members makes decisions for the cooperative.
The cooperative is an offshoot of Common Ground, a grassroots organization that spearheads narrowly focused issue campaigns. The organization is currently involved in efforts to revitalize foreclosed houses and improve public schools’ athletic facilities in Milwaukee.
The healthcare cooperative is focused on educating the public about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, said Daren Allen, vice president of business development.
“What people need to understand is the law is about them and, for the first time in this industry, the consumer has a voice and a say,” Allen said.
To compete with the larger insurance companies on the marketplace, the cooperative relies on strong customer service and easy-to-understand descriptions of its insurance products, according to Allen.
“When I get to talk about (the cooperative), I’m not selling health insurance, I am selling consumerism,” Allen said. “I believe in the consumer and their ability to choose and make decisions that are right for them.”
That soft-sell approach was on full display when Moseley and Mooney visited Joe Kender, the owner of Grūm, a small barber shop at the corner of Belleview Place and Downer Avenue.
“There’s so much misinformation out there [that] people need a starting point so this is good,” said Kender, who has insurance, but pays a high monthly premium and deductibles.
The Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative is one of 24 nonprofit health insurance companies throughout the country that are being funded through Affordable Care Act loans. It will receive $56.4 million in federal loans, Allen said.
The goal is to have 10,000 enrollees during each of the next five years, Allen said. As of the middle of December, the cooperative had about 3,500 enrollees, according to Moseley.
Anne Finch-Nehring, the owner of Nehring’s Sendik’s on Downer, welcomed the visit from Moseley and Mooney and planned to hang a few Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative fliers up in the employee area.
“It’s awesome, because everybody is going to be looking … we’re looking for any opportunity to find different ways for people to figure this out and to help our employees,” said Finch-Nehring, who added that she expects to be unable to continue to afford health insurance for her employees when the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented. Finch-Nehring noted that few employees take the insurance now.
Opponents of the Affordable Care Act say that it will increase insurance premiums, force insurance companies to drop policyholders and force businesses to stop offering health insurance to their employees.
The federal marketplace website Healthcare.gov experienced a myriad of problems in October and November. As of the beginning of December, many of the technical issues had been resolved, according to the Obama administration.
Despite the political and technical challenges the Affordable Care Act has faced, Allen is optimistic that Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative and the federal marketplace will be a popular option, especially for young people.
“They love the whole cooperative message (because) they are growing up in a society that has shown them that corporate America is not very fair at times,” Allen said.