Common Ground launches with Obamacare

Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative, a nonprofit organization selling health insurance plans on the new Affordable Care Act-created health insurance marketplaces, had its official product launch on Oct. 1, the long-awaited opening day for Obamacare open enrollment.

“I’m happy to report that at 12:01 a.m. (Oct. 1), the Common Ground website was live and able to enroll people for health insurance,” said Jim Wesp, vice president of the board of directors.

The official announcement was made at a launch event outside of the Hanson Dodge Creative office, in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward. The cooperative immediately began a “flyer blitz” to get the word out to potential customers and will be going door-to-door in the Third Ward and parts of East Town, said Bob Connolly, president of the board of directors.

Common Ground’s website,, was up and running on day one of open enrollment. The cooperative signed up its first six customers at the launch of its awareness campaign at Mount Mary College on Monday, Sept. 30, said Connolly. The application, he said, is “only two pages long.”

Connolly, a partner in The James Company, said he is the cooperative’s first customer. He and others who signed up said their new plans are at a significantly lower cost for similar plans than the prices they were previously paying for insurance coverage.

“My premiums will drop 28 percent, and I’ll save $14,000 a year for the two people in the company who are on the plan,” said Connolly.

Wesp, who is also the owner of Kettle Moraine Hardwoods Inc., said, “If all of our employees stay with similar plans to what they have now, we’ll save 20 percent, amounting to $9,000 in savings.”

Small business owner Dan Stemper, of the Milwaukee-based and family-owned, 102-year-old T. H. Stemper Company, said that he will be enrolling his employees in the Common Ground Healthcare Cooperative’s health insurance plan.

“I am proud to hand Common Ground Healthcare Co-op my application for the best health insurance on the market that will lower my employees’ deductible significantly,” Stemper said. “I know my rate and the Common Ground Health Insurance Cooperative will save my company over 30 percent, which is about $72,000 per year.”

Many volunteers are participating in the Common Ground’s outreach efforts. Because the cooperative is essentially a small startup, said Connolly, they do not have the resources to fund a large advertising budget. The organization is planning to spread its message by talking to 10,000 people – door to door – in seven Wisconsin counties over the next three months, said Connolly, and then extending its efforts north, beginning in Fond du Lac County and extending to Marinette County.

The cooperative began when it received a $56.4 million loan from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through the Affordable Care Act in 2012 to establish an organization to help southeastern Wisconsin small businesses and nonprofit organizations provide affordable health insurance for their employees. It uses a nonprofit, member-governed organizational model where any surplus achieved goes back into the company for the benefit of its members.

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