The PPACA CO-OP could spawn many small new health plans. (Photo: Tad Motoyama/AP)

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is holding a telephone conference call session aimed at parties that might want to start Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans (CO-OPs).

HHS officials plan hold a 1-hour CO-OP information call at noon EDT Wednesday.

The scheduled hosts are Richard Popper, director of insurance programs at the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO), an arm of HHS, and Barbara Smith, associate director of the CO-OP Program at CCIIO.

Popper and Smith will talk about the recent HHS CO-OP development funding procedures announcement.

HHS is offering low-interest loans to nonprofit groups that are eligible to start CO-OPs.

A provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 is supposed to encourage nonprofit groups to create CO-OPs to serve as an alternative to traditional health insurance arrangements. Existing for-profit and nonprofit health insurers are not allowed to create CO-OPs.

The CO-OPs are supposed to sell coverage through the new health insurance exchanges that are set to start up in 2014.

CO-OP program organizers are hoping the plans will use any profits they make to cut premiums, improve health benefits, improve the quality of health care and expand enrollment.

The federal government is offering loans for organizations that want to do the work needed to start CO-OPs and to help the organizations meet health plan solvency requirements.

Teleconference organizations are asking would-be CO-OP organizers to send questions in writing, in the Word format, to Anne Bollinger before the call starts.

Proposed CO-OP regulations are available here.

CO-OP funding opportunity information is available here.

“The statute provides loans to capitalize eligible prospective CO-OPs with a goal of having at least one CO-OP in each state,” officials say in a program description in the funding notice. “The statute permits the funding of multiple CO-OPs in any state, provided that there is sufficient funding to capitalize at least one CO-OP in each state. Congress provided budget authority of $3.8 billion for the program. The statute directs the [HHS] secretary to give priority to applicants that will offer CO-OP qualified health plans on a statewide basis, will use integrated care models, and have significant private support.”

Other CO-OP coverage from National Underwriter Life & Health: