Are Rural Electric Co-ops a Model for Health Care?

Sen. Grassley isn't taking back his "pull the plug on grandma" remark, but he sees a way health care cooperatives could help.

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U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking member of the Finance Committee and key player in the pitched health-care debate, sees as “viable” a plan for the creation of medical insurance cooperatives.

In theory, the health-care cooperatives, a plan advanced by U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., would function like long-standing rural electric cooperatives, a comparison Grassley himself drew in describing them.

“I do see it very much as a viable option, but understand, I’m not for a government-run health plan anyway because it’s going to crowd out private health insurance,” Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said in an interview in Carroll, Iowa.

Grassley added, “You know the government is not a competitor, it’s a predator.”

Health-care cooperatives, seen as one way to provide coverage to the millions of uninsured Americans, may offer an alternative to a “public option” that would essentially extend Medicare, or government-managed coverage, to younger Americans.

According to The New York Times, the government would offer start-up money, perhaps $6 billion, in loans and grants to help doctors, hospitals, businesses and other groups form nonprofit cooperative networks to provide health care and coverage. The co-ops could be formed at the national, state or local levels. 

Grassley said he doesn’t see an “absolute necessity” that a health-care reform package include cooperatives. 

“But if it solves a political problem, and as long as it’s consumer-run and not anything with the federal government, then it’s something I could support,” Grassley said.

Grassley stressed that the co-ops would be a political solution not a policy one. “I don’t think you need either, but if it solves a political problem and it’s along the lines of I’ve known co-ops for 150 years, as we’ve known them in the Midwest. They’re a good institution,” Grassley said.

In the past two weeks, Grassley, usually cast in the role of elder statesman, found himself in a 24/7 news cycle circus involving former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s charge that President Obama and Democratic allies were seeking to create “death panels” to ration or withhold care from senior citizens.

No such provision exists in proposed legislation, but detractors seized on a plan inserted by a Georgia Republican to provide Medicare funding for voluntary end-of-life counseling for living wills. The government’s role would have been to reimburse doctors for taking the time to have the conversations.

Last week, Grassley thrust himself into the center of the media firestorm surrounding the matter by saying the following: “In the House bill, there is counseling for end of life. You have every right to fear. You shouldn’t have counseling at the end of life, you should have done that 20 years before. Should not have a government-run plan to decide when to pull the plug on grandma.” 

In the interview Grassley said he didn’t want a do-over on the remarks. “I don’t wish I stayed away from it,” he said. 

But Grassley said his comments were far different from Palin’s, not an endorsement of them.

“I never used the word ‘death panel,’” Grassley said. “I wasn’t even aware of it until somebody had said Palin said something.”

Grassley said his position on end-of-life counseling has been consistent in the health-care reform negotiations. 

“I said. ‘We’re not going to do this,’” Grassley said. “This is something that needs to be done within the family, between the minister and doctors and the family. The government shouldn’t be promoting this stuff.”

Grassley said he was using the phrase “pull the plug” in reference to a comment President Barack Obama had made. Speaking last week in New Hampshire Obama said that the administration’s plan would not ration care for older Americans or “pull the plug on grandma.”

The end-of-life-counseling provision is no longer in the pending legislation.

Grassley said the episode is an example of diversionary tactics use by liberals. “It’s all about the left of this country not wanting to deal with the realities of a budget deficit or their heath plan not being paid for,” Grassley said.

 

 

 

Topics: Health
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