By Senator Mark DeSaulnier
The introduction of health care cooperatives into the reform debate is a dangerous distraction. Health care co-ops will not increase competition in a business dominated by giant insurance companies, but rather fail in the most critical need of health care reform: cost control.
Co-ops have been around for a long time in the United States and have been successful in some industries-grocery stores, community credit unions and electricity. However health care co-ops have a very different record.
Conservatives herald co-ops because, during the 1930s and 40s, health insurance co-ops covered hundreds of thousands of Americans, in large part due to the financial support of the federal Farm Security Administration (FSA). But this and other health care co-ops have a history of failure without tight federal regulation and significant taxpayer investment.
A local health insurance co-op, as described by many conservatives in Congress and the media could not grow large enough or quickly enough to compete with health insurance industry behemoths and near-monopolies that control the majority of the market.
The only entity large enough to create an organization capable of introducing competition into the health insurance market is the federal government.
A public option capable of competing with Big Insurance will force insurance companies to lower premiums and improve quality of service.
The public option will provide an affordable, basic coverage plan to all who want it. For those who prefer to buy insurance from a private plan, competition from the public option will aid in lowering the costs of coverage.
Claims that the public option will simply overrun the health insurance market and eliminate private companies are absurd. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that, even among those with incomes that make them eligible for assistance that will aid in paying for a public option, just one-third would chose that public option. Moreover, under the reform proposal in Congress, three million more people would have primary medical coverage through an employer than under current law, according to the CBO.
The public option creates competition in a market dominated by a few massive conglomerates. It lowers health insurance premiums across the board and increases quality of care. As the debate in Congress and throughout our nation rages on, we must be a clear for voice advocating for the public option. It the only true reform that can control costs and provide health care insurance for a greater number of Americans.