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Senate Finance Committee's Cooperatives Can't Replace Public Option

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, August 7, 2009

Consumer health cooperatives "are not yet ready for prime time" and "are certainly not a substitute for a public option" in health reform, Yale professor Jacob Hacker said yesterday.

"Are cooperatives going to be effective in taking on these gigantic insurance companies? From everything I know from people who represent them, the answer is a flat 'no.' "Cooperatives, even if they're established after a lengthy period of development, would be small and scattered and lack the means to restrain cost increases or implement delivery of payment reform on a broad scale," said Hacker, who is one of the leading proponents of the public insurance option.

And if the Senate Finance Committee endorses federally promoted health cooperatives, they should be understood for what they are: An effort to kill the public plan, and with it the prospects for a competitor to take on private insurance companies, he said.

Hacker joined U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a member of the Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor, and Pensions, who decried efforts by special interest groups to undermine a public plan and several key provisions in health reform legislation by spreading rumors that have no basis in fact. They made their remarks in a teleconference for reporters sponsored by in a conference organized by Campaign for America's Future a left-leaning Washington, D.C., political group advocating social reforms, including healthcare policy change, such as universal coverage.

He decried what he called a "misinformation campaign" being circulated at town halls and other forums that President Obama isn't a U.S. citizen, that health reform would constitute euthanasia of older, sicker Americans, and that the effort would amount to socialized medicine and a government takeover.

Without directly accusing special interest groups of spreading those rumors, Brown said in a response to a reporter's question acknowledged that Pharma, America's Health Insurance Plans, and the American Hospital Association are special interests that "are trying to shape this bill."

"I appreciate that they have come to the table. I also know what they're doing, what drug companies are doing on biologics, and what the health insurance industry is doing, trying to get a weak public option or no public option at all to basically decimate the public option," he said. "These interest groups are out there, as of course they would be, and they're spending–the statistics I've seen are $1.4 million a day, not just from drug or insurance companies, but they're the main part of that."

Brown added, "Don't think these interests groups aren't out there, fighting every day out there...to keep their share and enlarge their share of the public healthcare dollar in this country.

"And they're a big reason this is so difficult . . . because there's so much money at stake. The insurance companies and drug companies, if they always have their way with Republicans, I want to make sure that they're less likely to have their way with progressive democratic majority and the progressive Democratic president."

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