Monday, August 17, 2009

Exchanges, Co-Ops And Cop-Outs On Health Care Reform

If we would only pay attention to history, we would know that co-ops will fare no better than exchanges. Many co-ops were started during the 1930s in the years of the Great Depression, only to fail in most instances despite initial government subsidies. Most of these co-ops never reached sufficient size to either become financially viable or to counteract market problems. Only a few have succeeded over the years. An excellent example is Group Health Cooperative in Washington State, which today has some 600,000 members in an effective integrated health care system. But despite its reliance on salaried physicians in a large well-managed group practice, it still has to compete against its competitors and has almost as much trouble containing costs. Group Health today has only a 9 percent market share in Washington State. It has increased its premiums by an average of 12.3 percent a year since 2000 (four times the rate of inflation) (Link to Sack, K, Health co-op offers model for overhaul. New York Times, July 7, 2009: A1), and is raising its premiums in 2009 by 13 percent (compared with 17 percent by Regence BlueShield). (Link to Song, K.M. Health-plan costs soar for individuals. Seattle Times, July 9, 2009)

Proponents of co-ops today grossly underestimate the difficulty in setting up co-ops, both in terms of start-up costs and lead times in the best of cases. It took Group Health 62 years to reach an enrollment of 500,000, which many health analysts figure is the minimal viable size. As a champion of co-ops, Senator Conrad acknowledges that start-up funding would be high for co-ops, requiring some $4 billion, while others estimate $10 billion. (Ibid, Sack above)

So where does all this leave us in this summer of discontent over health care? Despite the vigorous efforts of the Administration and many members of Congress, exchanges and co-ops won’t work. They won’t make health insurance more affordable. They are a political compromise position in an effort to gain bipartisan support for a bad health care bill. Beyond not fixing the insurance problem, they won’t contain runaway costs of health care. But that is the subject of the next post.

Read it all at PNHP's Official Blog

No comments:

Post a Comment