The CO-OPs have hatched. (AP photo/Los Angeles Zoo, Tad Motoyama)

Health Republic Insurance of New York has brought in Bill Friedman to try to win the hearts of the state’s insurance agents and brokers.

Friedman, a health insurance sales veteran who has worked for AMG Health Plans, is serving as director of broker relations for the new health insurer. He’s recruiting agents, brokers and sales operations, along with support staffers. 

He’s also spreading the message that the company will be owned by its customers; pays commissions of 2 percent in the individual market and 3 percent in the small-group market; and has premiums that are low by New York state exchange standards, and very low by the state’s recent commercial individual market standards.

The rates are “at the low end of the spectrum” Friedman says. “But it’s all backed up with good actuarial work.”

Health Republic is one of the new “Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans” (CO-OPs) created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Congress created the nonprofit, member-owned, tax-advantaged, federal-startup-loan funded plans in an effort to create more competition in the health insurance market, and to compromise between members of Congress who wanted to see more government involvement in health insurance and members who wanted to see less.

Health Republic bears the mark of having emerged from a complicated PPACA program. On the company’s home page, for example, it states that Health Republic is just “doing business as” name. Its official name is “Freelancers Health Service Corp.” 

Freelancers Union — a nonprofit New York state insurer that has won the hearts of many young freelance writers, artists and actors — helped start CO-OPs in New York, New Jersey and Oregon. Because it is a health insurer itself, PPACA rules forbade it from owning a CO-OP, even though it is a nonprofit itself. 

Health Republic now has no official connection with Freelancers Union, and it’s getting its provider network from MagnaCare, not from Freelancers Union.

Health Republic has a license to sell health insurance in all of New York state but is limiting itself to selling coverage around the state’s bigger cities for now. The company is in areas such as Albany and Syracuse as well as the New York City area.

CO-OPs are supposed to sell mainly to individuals and small groups but can get some business from large groups. Health Republic is limiting itself to selling to individuals and employers with 2 to 50 employees, Friedman says. The owner can count as an employee, but an owner and spouse cannot count as two separate employees.

Brokers can connect with Health Republic through New York’s NY State of Health exchange website or through fax, e-mail, paper mail or other traditional channels, Friedman says.

Friedman is not giving enrollment figures.

But “there’s been a brisk amount of activity,” Friedman says.

Business has been coming in to Health Republic’s main offices, which are in downtown Manhattan, through every channel, Friedman says.

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