Commentary: Health insurance co-ops are a copout

Unwilling to push for the strong medicine needed to fix America's health care system, a battle-weary Senate and administration appear poised to settle for health reform lite. That would be a major mistake.

The Senate and possibly the White House are unfortunately veering away from support of a public insurance option, which would make coverage more universal and drive down health care costs.

They are looking instead at setting up a system of regional, consumer-run insurance cooperatives.

But research is not encouraging about the ability of cooperatives to dramatically improve access to health insurance and put a lid on rising costs — the primary goals of reform.

The Commonwealth Fund, a leading researcher on health care issues, published a 2002 report on co-ops that had been created to help individuals and small businesses purchase insurance. Researchers found numerous failed ventures, and concluded the model did not result in lower premiums or significantly reduce the number of the uninsured.

Plans for establishing cooperatives are vague so far. But presumably each would need to recruit a board of directors, raise capital, set up administrative structures, develop information technology and get doctors and other providers on board. Each would have ongoing administrative and marketing expenses. Where are the cost savings?

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