Co-ops: A Misnomer

Posted: Aug 18, 2009 6:13 PM
Jillian, I see you've joined NRO's Reihan Salam in saying to all the curmodgeonly conservatives that we shouldn't be so knee-jerk opposed to co-ops.

While I agree with the general sentiment of "let's not rule something out the moment it leaves a Democrat's mouth," the Kent Conrad co-op plan (the most comprehensive on the table at the moment) seems like it's something that conservatives can unite against.

These government-chartered co-op plans aren't what we conjure up in our minds when someone mentions the word 'co-op.' As Lewis McCrary detailed at the American Conservative, we should think less of the stereotype food market co-operative and more of Fannie Mae.

"When I hear the word cooperative, I imagine myself banding together with my neighbors to create a community-based solution. But Conrad’s approach is not the kind of organically emerging network of local civil society organizations that many conservatives could endorse. Such a decentralist approach to filling the gaps in health care could never come from a top down Washington plan that requires “strong governance standards” (and most likely a large regulatory bureaucracy)."

And John Hood at NRO says that this will just be government-run health care by another name.

If a federal law creates a bunch of new entities, financed with federal taxes and subjected to federal rules, and likely overseen by political appointees, calling them “cooperatives” will not change their essential nature.

While it's possible that encouraging the establishment of health care co-ops might be a good idea in general, the Conrad plan (and any plan that likely comes out of Congress) is going to be a government-controlled enterprise full of unnecessary mandates and rent-seeking.

Conservatives should definitely be open to all sorts of health reform ideas. There's a lot of good work being done in these areas by, off the top of my head, the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. We shouldn't be against "co-ops" as an idea. But we should be wary of what's coming out of Conrad and Obama.

Salam says that "bitter opposition to the idea suggests that the right is needlessly hostile to reform." This is half-true. The right is hostile to reform, but not needlessly so, and not to all reform. Conservatives should be under no illusion that we're going to get health reform in the direction that we think is important while the Dems control the White House and Congress. What I'm hoping for is a plan that will do the least damage, have the lowest price tag, and be the easiest to sunset once the Democrats fall out of power again.