An expanded health care co-operative representing workers at all three Detroit automakers is among the topics on the table in contract talks between Ford and the UAW, Chairman Bill Ford confirmed today.

“Yeah, we’re discussing it and we’ll see where it goes. But again, it’s way too early,” said the Ford chairman after an event at Starfish Family Services in Inkster, to mark the 10th anniversary of the company’s Ford Volunteer Corps.

“It’s very early, but I feel very good about it. I always do,” Ford said when asked about the progress of talks. The UAW contract with each of the Detroit automakers expires Sept. 14.

“We have a great relationship with our employees and with the UAW. There are always issues, but it’s early days, but I feel great,” Ford said.

UAW President Dennis Williams has floated the idea of an independent health care benefits co-op that would include hourly and salaried workers at General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in a big pool. The idea is the co-op would combine forces with the health care trust that already exists to manage the health care of retirees and drive down costs.

Their combined numbers — they could represent as many as 900,000 people — should provide leverage in dealing with insurance companies, hospitals, clinics and health care providers.

Money saved could be a way to avoid worker concessions and go towards wage increases which is a critical part of the current contract negotiations.

The automakers have been reporting strong profits and workers want to share in the monetary success. There are senior employees who have not had a wage increase in a decade but have had profit-sharing checks. And there are entry-level or second-tier workers who make less money an hour for the same work and the union wants to address that wage gap.

As it stands now, each of the Detroit Three runs health care benefits programs for salaried employees and for workers based on what’s spelled out in the UAW contract. Fiat Chrysler says its health care costs have risen to more than $600 million today from $347 million in 2011, or by about 73%. Ford’s costs have risen over the same period to about $800 million from $550 million, or by 45%. GM did not disclose figures.

Williams has said the 2007 agreement to form the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, provides health care benefits to 750,000 retirees and dependents. Launched on Jan. 1, 2010, it became the largest nongovernmental purchaser of retiree health care in the U.S. The trust is governed by an 11-member committee that includes Williams.

It is viewed as a successful model for addressing rising health care costs.

At the Inkster event attended by Ford, two new initiatives were announced: the “Bill Ford Better World” program, a $500,000 a year effort to fund projects worldwide relating to mobility, human needs and water; and a “30 under 30” program to help create young philanthropists among Ford employees.

Contact Alisa Priddle: 313-222-5394 or apriddle@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @AlisaPriddle