TEXT OF STORY
Kai Ryssdal: President Obama heads to Capitol Hill tomorrow night looking to bring some elusive consensus to the health-care debate. The health-care news of this Tuesday, however, comes from the Senate Finance Committee. It’s mulling the idea of something called regional insurance co-operatives. Yes, that’s a mouthful. But it’s also a phrase you may hear a lot this fall, as Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE: So what exactly is a regional insurance co-op? That can be hard to say, even for North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad, who’s been pushing the idea all summer on cable TV.
SENATOR KENT Conrad: A cooperative is membership-owned and membership-run, so it’s a non-profit alternative to for-profit insurance companies.
In other words, it’s a non-profit company that would sell health insurance to some of the 47 million Americans who don’t have any. If you’ve ever bought a policy through a mutual life insurance company, it’s the same idea. But it would only be insurance.
It’s not the same thing as a health co-op, where doctors work on salary. Paul Hazen is CEO of the National Cooperative Business Association. In theory, he says insurance co-ops run by their members could offer cheaper coverage than for-profit companies.
PAUL Hazen: They’re not-for-profit businesses. They don’t have outside stockholders to reward, and they provide a competitive yardstick in the marketplace.
You could say the same thing about the so-called public option. And like that plan, which many conservatives oppose, co-ops, too, would rely on public dollars, at least at first. The idea has its critics, including Paul Ginsburg at the Center for Studying Health System Change. He thinks co-ops might be too small to offer much of a discount.
PAUL Ginsburg: I’m not convinced that they would run their businesses that much differently. Because if they did, they’d be losing money.
Still, if co-ops can help an overhaul bill squeeze through Congress, Ginsburg says that in itself could be a big step forward.
I’m Joel Rose for Marketplace.
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.