Key Senators negotiating aspects of the Finance Committee health care reform bill spoke to the media yesterday and gave further details on the still-unfinished legislation.  Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) gave further details on the bill’s “co-op” proposal, and although the media coverage focused mainly on the debate among Democrats (subscription) on whether a co-op could substitute for the public plan, the details sound similar to an idea that associations have been supporting as needed reform for years.

According to Congress Daily (subscription), Conrad said co-ops could be established at the local, state and national level.  States could establish the local co-ops, but Conrad failed to elaborate on what entities could establish national co-ops.  These co-ops would require $6 billion in start-up costs, but Senate negotiators are estimating that a series of co-ops would provide insurance to 12 million Americans, which would make it the country’s third largest insurer.  Policies and regulations would initially be established by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The idea of local co-ops is not a new one to associations; as noted in this space yesterday associations such as the National Cooperative Business Association and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association provide structure for co-ops in their specific areas.  The Los Angeles Times also provides more details on existing co-ops in this article.  But in the health arena the concept of pooling for health insurance has long been a reform supported by associations.  In the current Congress, numerous associations have supported and pushed the Small Business CHOICE Act (HR 859), sponsored by Reps. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and Sam Graves (R-MO).  The legislation would allow small businesses that belong to the same association to pool in the catastrophic insurance market and create a reinsurance backstop that provides coverage when the small business’s primary care coverage is exceeded.  Prior to this, many association supported association health plan (AHP) legislation, which would have allowed associations and small businesses to create national insurance pools to make insurance affordable for members and members’ employees.

Based on the information released, do you think a series of local and national co-ops for health insurance would achieve the same as a series of AHPs?

Quick Hits

House Small Business Chair Velazquez pens a letter to Energy & Commerce Committee Chair Waxman (D-CA) advocating for changes in health care bill to help small business, including HR 859… President Obama visits AARP to hold a health care discussion… the latest White House push on health care… House Democrats still trying to decide how to proceed with their health care bill.

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