Wisconsin Health News interviews Bob De Vita

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“On the Record with Robert De Vita, CEO, Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative” 

reprinted with permission from Wisconsin Health News

One of nearly two dozen nonprofit insurance companies created by a loan from the federal health reform law, Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative has a lot to lose if the federal health insurance exchanges don’t rebound from their rocky start. But CEO Robert De Vita, who is also a volunteer high school football coach, isn’t yet ready to throw in the towel.

“I won’t walk away because the exchange is not working properly,” he said. “It’s like giving up in the third quarter when you are down. I am not happy about it. But I am also not going to give up.”

As of Monday, Common Ground had 121 members – more than half from enrolling off the exchange. He said a working federal Web site is important, but just one of the channels his organization is working through.

In February of 2012, Common Ground was awarded up to $56.4 million in federal loans. Its goal is to add 10,000 members in 2014.

Read more below.

WHN: What impact is the rocky start to the federal exchanges having on Common Ground?

BD: The enrollment process is through many channels. We sell our product on and off the exchange. We sell our product through brokers. We sell our product through direct sales. We have 121 members, and more have enrolled off the exchange than on the exchange. We have said from day one, we are going after small businesses, non-profits, individual entrepreneurs, contractors, freelancers, and people that have gotten a bad deal off the insurance market.

WHN: Would a greater percentage of your members so far have come from the exchange if it was functioning properly?

BD: Absolutely. There’s no question. I am not a climate change denier or conspiracy theorist. There is truth in this. The federal exchange marketplace is not working that well. I am not denying that. I want it to work. I am a taxpayer, too. I would also say to Congress, why don’t you fund it? A year ago, [HHS Secretary] Kathleen Sebelius had to go on a donation sweep to try to get money to fund it…We need to all knuckle down, just like we did with Medicare Part D. What happened was both sides of Congress got together and fixed it. They changed the wording. They cleaned it up. I am angry at how the media has portrayed this. Let’s focus on what are the issues at hand. Or if you don’t want it to work, just keep up what you are doing and we will go back to what we’ve had before.

WHN: Are you confident the Obama administration will be able to fix the issues by the end of November?

BD: I am not confident in anything. I have played in too many sports. I have been in too many court battles. You never go into a game saying ‘we got this locked.’ I have seen too many upsets. This is fixable. This is a human endeavor. I have been through three electronic health record conversions. I was at Marshfield when we built the thing. We can fix this, but we have to be totally committed to this. You back down, you give in, and you won’t be able to fix this. Fight each other, you won’t be able to fix it. If you put a team together and everyone is committed to it, for the benefit of the patient, the consumer and the member, it will be fixed. Just like Part D was fixed.

WHN: You’ve stated that the co-op hopes to enroll 10,000 in 2014. Is that still attainable?

BD: Oh yeah. In a 19-county service area that has two-thirds of the population of the state with good rates, good positioning, strong providers, good connection with the community – we want to eclipse that.

WHN: There are some who are worried that co-ops have too many cards stacked against them, and they ultimately won’t be able to compete against established insurance companies. How do you respond to that?

BD: Ask [former Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin executive director] Larry Zanoni to pull out the article from the Wisconsin State Journal in 1976 that he carries in his billfold. It says Group Health Coop is doomed. That has always been said about us by the health insurance industry, by the critics, by the folks that didn’t want us around. Talk to the people that are on the ground, like me. Yeah, we have a great chance. People want that alternative. This is a great chance. Just like Group Health Coop had in 1976. And how HealthPartners had in Minneapolis and Group Health Cooperative had in Seattle. They were called socialists and they were called communists. Look at the history of these places. They were all under fire.

Wisconsin Health News is a nonpartisan, independent online news service. For a free trial to WHN’s daily email newsletter, contact Tim Stumm at tstumm@wisconsinhealthnews.com/a>