Monday, August 24, 2009

News story: As national dialogue turns to co-ops, how does Group Health stack up?

From the Seattle Times:

When Mike Kreidler joined Group Health Cooperative as a staff optometrist in 1972, the co-op's reputation for innovation and quality was such that a Soviet delegation toured the Seattle headquarters to learn how a member-run collective managed to flourish in a capitalist country.

As salaried employees, the doctors and nurses at Group Health "paid a lot of attention to patients because they were effectively your bosses," said Kreidler, now the state's insurance commissioner.

Today it's the people seeking to change the nation's health-care system who are taking a closer look at the Seattle cooperative.

The Obama administration last week endorsed health cooperatives like Group Health as a potential alternative to a government-run insurance plan whose aim is to create competition among insurers and slow soaring health-care costs.

...Yet even some of Group Health's most ardent admirers warn that replicating the co-op would be difficult — and replicating it quickly practically impossible.

The story notes that Group Health has struggled with some of the same problems as other health insurers, such as significant recent hikes in premiums. But it also says that even critics think the co-op's model is worth copying.