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Conrad lays out co-op details

From NBC's Ken Strickland
Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad

today gave specific details on the co-op insurance proposal being drafted by a bipartisan group of the Senate Finance Committee. Conrad, who has shepherded the idea, stressed that no deals have been struck and the details were not final.

The cooperative (or co-op) is a non-profit, non-government-run health insurance plan designed to compete against private insurance companies. The nature of a co-op is that it's a privately owned entity run and financially supported by the people who use it.

The Finance Committee co-op would be available on a state, regional, or even national basis. "If somebody came forward and wanted to put together a national entity, they could do that," Conrad said. "If various states wanted to join together to have a regional option ... nothing would prohibit either of those."

Video: Sen. Judd Gregg R-N.H., discusses how the Senate Finance Committee is handling the new health care proposal and whether the bill can accomplish the goals set out by President Obama.

Health-care experts suggested to Conrad the co-op would require a front-end federal investment of $6 billion. "When you start up a health insurance company, state laws require you to have reserves," Conrad said, in order to make these entities viable.

Accountants versed in health care told the bipartisan group that the co-ops would attract 12 million people, making it the third-largest provider of health insurance in the country. It's unknown if those people would be from the uninsured population or migrate over from private plans. "I don't think there's any way of knowing that," Conrad said. "I think you'd have some of both."

The Health and Human Services Secretary would appoint an interim board, charged with setting policy.