Leader Blues

Friday, August 21, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Health cooperatives and First Electric

That Americans choose to care for those in need, no matter the convoluted route it takes to get there, is proof of our generosity, an ideal that has been maintained throughout our countryís short history. Most milestones in our nationís history can be traced to some motivation in helping others, even actions we are not so proud of today.

In that vein, it might be called admirable that those who have enjoyed tax-funded health care for years are finally recognizing that many in the country are in need of coverage as well. The problem of offering affordable care while appeasing the insurance sector has led congressional moderates to consider the idea of cooperatives as an alternative to a public insurance plan.

They would be a welcome option if health co-ops were to operate similarly to our own First Electric Co-op, which was created in Jacksonville in 1938 to help poor Arkansans who couldnít afford to buy it from a privately owned company that then had a monopoly on the stateís power.

But particulars havenít yet surfaced on how such a system would function. Like most watered-down political solutions created in hopes of pleasing everybody, the co-op idea hasnít gained a lot of proponents. The insurance industry doesnít like it because co-ops would mean potential competition for them, the same reason itís pushed billions of dollars into lobbying Congress in an attempt to get members to abandon a public-health option.

Liberals donít like the idea either because it doesnít guarantee that people in need of insurance or improved coverage would get it. Co-ops create buying power; they arenít necessarily producers. As health insurance providers, they could essentially function as brokers.

Cooperative health-care plans wouldnít be safeguarded against skyrocketing administrative costs either, which is why Americans now pay too much for care.

Thereís more reason to give pause at the government having a hand in setting up quasi-public programs that have to do with health care. In 2003, the Medicare Modernization Act was intended to help seniors pay for prescription drugs. It gave them the option of signing up for privately run programs that paid for drugs to a limit. Remember the donut hole? Thatís where millions of seniors were left when the private companies refused to pay for their drugs after theyíd maxed out their small benefits. The program shifted costs on to the elderly, their families and state governments.

Seniors arenít the only ones in need of a fair system who are getting sick in America. Affordable health care needs to be available to young people, too. They deserve higher wages that havenít been possible in recent years due to employersí soaring health-care costs.

A sustained America isnít possible without real health insurance.

óAliya Feldman