Not the Health Care Co-ops They Had in Mind
By Tom Sullivan
ourfuture.org June 17, 2009
Efforts continue in the Senate to water down any public health insurance option included in comprehensive health care reform, regardless of what 83% of the American public wants.
First it was the trigger provision designed never to be pulled, like that floated by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Last week, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), proposed creating non-profit health insurance cooperatives. Politico dubbed it “a potential game changer.” Jacob Hacker called it Conrad’s co-op cop-out.
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, supported the co-op proposal, saying, “I am inclined, and I think the committee is inclined, toward a co-op.” Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the panel’s senior Republican, said, “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.”
Fine. Here is one possibility we could see and, given the abandonment of single-payer and what looks like a systematic effort to sabotage the public option, a co-op that a growing number of Americans would gladly join:
Democratic Party Lays Plans for Insurance Cooperative
Democratic Party insiders have quietly begun laying plans for a national nonprofit insurance cooperative owned and operated for the benefit of its members.
Inspired by an idea suggested by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., the proposed plan, code-named Trenton, would be open to all registered Democrats and their families.
Leaders from both major parties have declared a single-payer health care plan dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate.
This month, Rasmussen’s partisan identification survey estimated the number of Democrats at 39.4% (leading Republicans by 6.8 percentage points). Dr. Michael McDonald of George Washington University recently estimated the 2008 voting-eligible population in the U.S. at roughly 213 million.
By those estimates, nearly 83 million Democrats and their families would be immediately eligible, with another 60 million independents up for grabs. When launched, Trenton could attract the largest single pool of insurance customers in the United States.
“We’re looking at a pool with far more bargaining power for driving down costs than the VA,” said an unidentified official.
The proposed Democratic insurance co-op would not deny coverage to patients with preexisting medical conditions.
It’s not a headline many on Capitol Hill, in Big Pharma or Big Insurance would welcome, and certainly not the co-op Kent Conrad envisions. But it’s one alternative frustrated Democrats have kicked around for years.
Why? Because their own politicians – those in a position to deliver real health care reform – are too weak to stand up for what 83% of Americans want. Because GOP spokesmen are too busy parroting Frank Luntz’s advice on how to defeat reform; they don’t care what 83% of Americans want. Because too many senators from both major parties are just as bought-and-sold as Illinois Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin recently acknowledged.
In her career, Sen. Blanche Lincoln has taken $1.8 million from health and insurance interests (according to Open Secrets) and is understandably noncommittal about supporting real reform. The Arkansas Democrat is also up for reelection in 2010. Blue America is preparing to target her district with television ads to remind her who she really works for.
The Change Congress and Gov. Howard Dean’s Democracy for America will cooperate in targeting Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), for her reluctance to support a public option. They plan to employ direct mail, e-mail and television ads. Landrieu has taken $1.6 million from health care and insurance interests.
Robert Reich warns that Big Pharma and Big Insurance are “pulling out all the stops” to kill the public option. They can expect opposition.
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