Co-Operative Public Plan Offers Hope For Bipartisan Bill
A plan to pool the ownership of health insurance into cooperatives owned by groups of residents and small businesses is attracting renewed hopes that a bipartisan public plan bill will pass Congress with wide support, The Associated Press reports.
"They'd be nonprofit, and without the government involvement that troubles Republicans and business groups about the public plan options. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, said Wednesday the idea could be key to a bipartisan health bill. Baucus raised it in a meeting with President Barack Obama, saying later that Obama showed interest. Baucus' Republican counterpart, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, also said the concept had potential."
Conrad's attempt at crafting a bipartisan proposal attempts to placate Democrats who insist that insurance companies forced to make a profit can't be trusted to provide adequate care for Americans, though it's unclear if it will work for more liberal members of the party. "Profit-making insurance companies wouldn't run the show, but there also wouldn't be the federal government backing that Republicans fear would eliminate fair competition with private companies. The co-ops could get federal seed money, Conrad said, but that would be the end of federal involvement. The co-ops would negotiate directly with medical providers" (Werner, 6/10).
Dow Jones Newswires: "The Conrad proposal is getting attention largely because Republicans have not rejected it out of hand. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the top Republican on the Finance panel, appeared open to the plan, but cautious. 'If it can be presented... as an entirely private-sector operation and is like co-ops we know generally in the Midwest, I think it's got some possibilities,' Grassley said, comparing it to rural electric co-operatives that operate in some parts of the U.S. Under Conrad's proposal, co-operatives on a state and possibly a national level could gain a federal charter, collect premiums and provide health-care benefits for its members." (Yoest, 6/10).
Reuters: "Some Democrats, though, are cool to the idea. 'A public plan option that competes with private insurance and follows the same rules as private insurance is the only real way to give every American access to good, affordable health insurance,' said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a (West Virginia) Democrat who has offered his own version of a public insurance plan." But Grassley said "that any federal money used to set up what likely would be state and regional health cooperatives would have to be in the form of loans and that the government should have no role in their operation" (Smith, 6/10).
In the meantime, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Bob Bennett, R-Utah, who co-sponsored legislation last year on health care reform told The Washington Post's David Broder that finding a key to financing the bill would be the easiest way to find bipartisan support. "As Wyden put it, 'The country is worried about the amount of debt we're piling up; you hear it in town meetings and see it in the polls. . . . That's why we have to show this is affordable.'"
"Wyden, careful to preserve his credentials within his own party, said he saw this (public plan) fight as more of a broad philosophical debate about the role and scope of government, but he reminded me that his bill last year did not include a government-sponsored plan" (Broder 6/11).