Illinois governor backs insurance 'co-ops' under healthcare law

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) is embracing a new type of insurance plan under President Obama's signature healthcare law.

The State Journal-Register reported that Quinn praised a new healthcare "co-op," which announced last week it would seek a license to operate in Illinois.

Co-ops are new, nonprofit health plans authorized by the Affordable Care Act. They're privately run, must be owned by their members and must reinvest all of their profits into improving quality or lowering premiums.

Co-ops were the brainchild of Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who pitched them as an alternative to the much-maligned "public option," although substantively the two policies have very little in common.

There are significant questions about whether co-ops will be able to get off the ground. It's hard to start a new insurance plan, especially given the large reserves plans are legally required to maintain.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is providing $4 billion in loans to would-be co-ops, but has said it expects a significant number of loan recipients could default.

Illinois's co-op has received a $160 million grant from HHS and announced plans last week to apply for a state license, the Journal-Register reported.

It's the only would-be co-op in the state to get HHS approval, according to the newspaper.

Quinn said he welcomed "another positive step to provide the people of Illinois more choices."