Bill would help establish co-ops, foundation says

A provision of the health care measure being debated in the House today seems to be crafted to encourage communities to follow in the footsteps of the Grand Junction system.

A synopsis of the bill at the Henry Kaiser Foundation Web site, http://www.kff.org, shows the measure calls for a consumer-operated and consumer-oriented program to help establish nonprofit, member-run health-insurance cooperatives that would offer coverage through the insurance exchange, which also is provided for in the measure.

The provision “simply wasn’t there before” in previous renditions of health-care bills, Dr. Michael Pramenko, a Grand Junction physician, said Friday. “We think it’s a big deal.”

Exactly how well Rocky Mountain Health Plans would fit that provision is still to be determined, said Steve ErkenBrack, president of the nonprofit health insurer.

The nonprofit, community-based aspects of the provision appear to fit Rocky Mountain Health Plans, but the bill still has a long way to go, ErkenBrack said.

“So the question is, assuming the concept remains in the final law: Does it get implemented in a way that we take advantage of it?”

The Grand Junction system has been featured in national publications such as The New Yorker and Los Angeles Times and in an atlas of medical systems by Dartmouth University.

The system is organized around nonprofit organizations such as Rocky Mountain Health Plans, St. Mary’s and Community hospitals, Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Colorado, and several other organizations that provide home health care and other services and keep patient records electronically.

The provision seems clearly intended to encourage communities to adopt variants of the Grand Junction model or similar models, Pramenko said. At least one similar model operates in the Salt Lake City area.

Opponents of the health care changes envisioned in the bill, which was unveiled by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last month, dismissed claims that it’s provisions, including the public option, would effect large cost savings by increasing competition.

“The notion that the public option will be used to fuel competition is laughable,” said Jeff Crank, the Colorado state director for Americans for Prosperity.

Ultimately, the system will exacerbate the cost-shifting from underfunded Medicare and Medicaid programs blamed for many of the woes of the current health care system, Crank said.


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