Conrad gets polite reception: Senator discusses health care co-ops at Milnor town hall meetingMILNOR, N.D. – Sen. Kent Conrad’s proposal to replace a proposed public insurance option with a co-operative plan garnered only lukewarm support at town hall meeting Wednesday.
By: By Dave Kolpack, INFORUM
MILNOR, N.D. – Sen. Kent Conrad’s proposal to replace a proposed public insurance option with a co-operative plan garnered only lukewarm support at town hall meeting Wednesday.
Conrad, who is involved in the negotiations on a bipartisan health care bill, is a leading advocate for consumer-owned nonprofit cooperatives that would sell insurance in competition with private industry – not unlike the way electric and agriculture co-ops operate.
He told more than 50 people at the Milnor Community Center that he came up with the plan after it became obvious to him that the public option wouldn’t make the cut.
“The co-op option is a good place to look,” said Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.
Shelley Seeberg, 45, a North Dakota native who recently moved to Minnesota, told Conrad she favored some sort of public option.
“Without that, I don’t think the co-op is going to have the wherewithal to compete,” she said.
Conrad told Seeberg that experts believe it would be possible to build a cooperative of 12 million members, which would make it the third-largest health insurance plan in the country. He emphasized that it would be run by members, not the government.
"In that setting, in that context, what they have told us is that the group health model would be a very powerful competitor,” he said.
Bill Anderson of nearby Rutland said he wants a public option, citing health care for veterans as an example of a government program that works.
“That system has become more effective and more efficient,” Anderson said. “But I guess I’m willing to try the co-op model. We’ve had co-ops around here for a long time.”
Milnor, a town of about 675 people in southeastern North Dakota, has a clinic that is staffed once a week by health care workers from a facility in Breckenridge, Minn., about 30 miles away.
Conrad said the gathering was his 21st meeting in the state to discuss health care. He gave everyone an opportunity to speak. None of them were there to protest.
“I commend you for zeroing in on the crux of the problem and that is costs,” Anderson said. “The system is not working as it should. It costs too much, delivers too little, leaves too many out and has to change.”
Conrad told the crowd that he would not vote for a bill that would include government control of health care, abortion funding or public assistance to people who are in the country illegally. He would not require end of life counseling.
“When you hear about these death panels, there are no such things in any of these proposals,” he said. “That’s someone’s overactive imagination.”
Afterward, Loretta Harak said she believes Conrad’s ideas are based on common sense, not partisan politics.
“Well, he thinks like a Republican,” said Harak, 75, a Laramie, Wyo., resident who was visiting family members. “But it’s not a Republican or Democrat issue, it’s a serious issue.”
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