An examination of Group Health in Seattle raises questions about the role of health co-ops in insurance reform. Seattle Weekly reports: "Two weeks ago, as the national debate over health care began to fixate on cooperatives like Seattle's Group Health as a possible model for reform, Eugene and Yukiko Gatlin filed for bankruptcy protection. The Tacoma couple, neither of whom receives health-care benefits through work, had racked up $50,000 in credit-card debt in order to pay their insurance premiums. The institution through which they were insured: Group Health."
"The Gatlins' story points to a central problem in relying on cooperatives to solve the nation's health-care ills. Judging by the track record of Group Health, one of the two pre-eminent cooperatives in the country and a health-care provider as well as insurer, such organizations won't address the biggest ill of all: the masses of people who can't afford coverage. .... Sean Neary, spokesperson for U.S. Senator Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota), who is leading the charge for a reform plan that focuses on cooperatives, says the plan does contain other measures that will help control costs. Still, the Senator's Web site stresses the creation of co-ops as the vehicle to affordable health care, claiming they 'would provide greater value by returning surplus revenue to members in the form of lower premiums.' But evidence in Washington suggests Group Health customers are not enjoying lower premiums" (Shapiro, 9/1).