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Health Care Co-Op Supporters Don't Know What They're Talking About

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So! Have you heard about these HEALTH CARE CO-OPS? If you watched any news at all yesterday, the answer is yes! And as you heard people on the teevee, attempting to explain what a "health care co-op" is, you might have been left with the strong impression that no one really knew what the hell they were talking about. There's a reason for that: no one really knew what the hell they were talking about!

But what does it matter? Because "health care co-ops" have come to be defined politically as representing the "sensible center" of this debate, offering that elusive, intoxicating elixir known as "bipartisanship." In Washington anything that's "bipartisan" is considered to be stuffed full of wondrous Tinkerbell magic and beloved by the political press, regardless of whether it's effective policy or not. And it usually isn't! To political elites, "bipartisanship" is like cleavage, multiplied by Ecstacy.

In the case of co-ops, the discussion has been even more inane than usual because nobody seems able to consistently describe what a "health care co-op" is. This does not dissuade the media, however. They're perfectly happy allowing a bunch of idiots talk about how magical (or how destructive) co-ops are based purely on the totally screwed-up political calculus.

Here, for instance, is that most serious of bipartisan players, Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, on MSNBC's Morning Meeting!

GRASSLEY: well, first of all, I hope that you understand that there's a lot of co-ops around the country. Just a few of them involved in health care. So there's a lot of experience of 150 years with Americans with co-ops.

Okay, sure! There are a ton of great co-ops! 150 years of co-ops! But we're talking about nationwide health care reform, so I'm a bit nervous to hear that there are only a "few" co-ops "involved in health care." From whence does his faith in co-ops stem? As it turns out, it comes from a lot of examples that don't have anything to do with health care, even remotely! As pretty CNN hologram Jessica Yellin explained to birther fanatic Lou Dobbs, health care co-ops proponent Senator Kent Conrad was specifically inspired by an entirely different kind of co-op:

He believes that the co-ops are a better option because his constituents are familiar with these models because of energy co-ops they have in their communities and he's seen them work. So maybe that's a better way to go.

So, Kent Conrad is under the impression that electricity and health care are distributed in the same manner? That's sort of dubious! Luckily, energy co-ops aren't Conrad's only inspiration! On CNN, Ed Henry explained:

Kent Conrad has been the one pushing it, saying, look, this has worked with rural electrification, it's worked with credit unions and the like and then maybe this could work with health care.

See, it would be useful if someone in the news could maybe point out that rural electrification and credit unions and health care provision are actually entirely different things. Instead, we are presented with this argument: "Apple, ergo orange."

What's really important about the health care co-ops proposal, of course, is that it is NOT the "public option." But what if you're more concerned with utterly demagoguing the issue? Well, you get Ralph Reed, telling Sean Hannity that co-ops are actually rampantly horrible big-government public optionism, in Trojan Horse form:

Sean, the co-op they're talking about will be heavily subsidized by the federal government and initial subsidy of $3 million and that's just the tip of the iceberg because they're always wrong on their projections. Remember the public option, the government run plan masquerading as a co-op will be subsidized with our tax dollars and that will lead to substandard care across the board and be a major problem.

So: the "health care co-op" is actually the "public option?" I feel like we are going in circles here!

Finally, Sanjay Gupta appeared on Anderson Cooper: 360, to at last offer a full explanation of what a co-op is. Remember: Gupta might have been Obama's Surgeon General if it hadn't been for the cripplingly low salary!

First of all, a co-op is not government run. You are talking about a not-for-profit organization that could offer insurance through a health exchange. They could go to the exchange, choose a private insurance company or they could choose insurance coming from a co-op. This is everyone who buys into the program, pays premiums, is essentially on the board as well. They are all sort of members as well as insured people. They figure out what the premiums are going to be, exactly what benefits are going to be offered. They are members as well as people who benefit from the plan.

[...]

If you look at the co-op across the board they have a couple of things going for them. They are not for profit, for example. They have low administration fees, overhead fees. As a result they may be able to have lower premiums -- that would be competitive...I can tell you this, looking at a lot of these historical knowledge of co-ops, unless you get scale -- hundreds of thousands of people participating -- it is hard for a co-op to compete against a private insurance company, which is why the people who are such supporters of the public option are crying foul. They are saying, look, the public option was a national option, it had scale. Hundreds of thousands if not more people. That could compete. Could a co-op even at a regional level compete? It all depends who joins.

So here's what the media knows about co-ops. If they exist, they are effective, unless they are ineffective. They are not socialized, government-run health care, unless they are. They provide an alternative to the public option...unless they don't. Proponents like them because if you ignore the many ways health-care co-ops are entirely unlike "credit unions" and "rural electrification," you can make the case that they are totally like "credit unions" and "rural electrification." And even if the White House follows along with the inane political calculus of "bipartisanship," and substitutes co-ops for the "public option" for the sake of earning Republican votes, chances are no Republicans will vote for it.

Great job, media!

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