Old-fashioned co-ops get new focus

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A centuries-old way of doing business is taking center stage on Capitol Hill as a cutting-edge and potentially politically viable alternative to the government-run health insurance plan long preferred by President Obama.

Cooperatives, first organized in the 18th century, are being considered in the health care reform debate after the Obama administration signaled Sunday that it isn't wedded to the taxpayer-funded public plan, once considered by Democrats as essential to any substantial health care package...

... The proposal, not yet released in legislative language, envisions the new health co-ops receiving startup funding in the form of federal grants or loans. Mr. Conrad has pegged that at about $6 billion. The co-ops would have to operate under the same regulations the insurance companies do and likely would be set up at a state or regional level.

Co-ops were first used by farming communities in the late 1700s. It was in 1910 that the concept was first introduced to the health care system, when a group of New York hospitals banded together to purchase joint laundry services, according to the University of Wisconsin's Center for Cooperatives.

Today, there are at least 305 health care cooperatives in the country, accounting for about $5 billion in revenue, according to the center, which warned that the figure is only a preliminary estimate...

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