Northwest Region's HMOs Show Co-Ops In Action

The idea of consumer-owned health cooperatives has become a hot topic in the health overhaul debate, and the Seattle Times reports on a model for these co-ops that already exists in Seattle. There, Group Health Cooperative has insured patients since 1947, using innovations such as paying doctors salaries and focusing on preventive care to help keep costs down and quality high. But, Washington state's third largest insurer took years to mature, while its innovations have earned admiration, they have not allowed the co-op to avoid "ever-rising premiums and periodic financial losses." Consumer Reports says the co-op is the nation's best HMO, or health maintenance organization (Song and Turim, 8/23).

Kaiser Permanente, the Northwest's second biggest HMO, has also been cited as a model program, the Portland Oregonian reports. "The key fact about providers such as Group Health and Kaiser is probably not their member-laden boards or cooperative structures. What makes the HMOs different is that they spend more than most insurers -- more than twice as much, in some cases -- on primary care such as vaccinations, mammograms and tracking diabetics' blood sugar." The report continues, "If the United States wants to improve its health system, which is mediocre among those of other wealthy Western nations, many experts say it should start spending money the way Kaiser or Group Health does" (Dworkin, 8/22).

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