Chris T. Pernell
Doctor and Clergywoman

Chris T. Pernell

Chris T. Pernell is a doctor and an ordained clergywoman in New Jersey. Two of her recent projects include a prison-based wellness program and a faith-based childhood obesity initiative.

Belaboring the Fix

The facts are plain and we cannot escape them: there are far too many Americans with inadequate health insurance or none at all. And those with insurance are no less vulnerable. Premiums are ridiculously high, competition is scarce, and the industry is allowed to cherry-pick--a callous method of "drop" and "deny" to protect profits. The reality, no matter how sour, is that our beloved health-care system is broken. Indeed, our physicians are among the best trained and our treatment facilities are world-class. Despite the bells and whistles, an underbelly of inflated costs, unequal access, inefficiencies and haphazard focus on wellness and prevention have wrought havoc.

Given that backdrop, shenanigans and obstructionist ideology have jeopardized reform. Though belabored, the obvious truth remains. The controversy, however, lies in the fix. Recent polls suggest Americans' resolve to enact meaningful legislation and alter the landscape has whittled, leaving lawmakers scurrying for political safety. Health-care cooperatives have been offered as middle ground, but in practice, it is questionable whether co-ops fit the scope and gravity of the problem.

With so many unknowns and variables, it is doubtful that co-ops will impact how private insurers do business and whether they can compete against industry giants and instigate price drops. There are no guarantees that doctors and hospitals will enlist or that the public will gravitate toward an untested notion. In principle, health cooperatives work only if a critical number of participants join. And outside a few locales, cooperatives are unfamiliar. Moreover, it is unclear that the left and right will coalesce around the idea. Some government involvement will be required and nowadays the legitimacy of government intervention has been assaulted.

The rhetorical back and forth over the last few days concerning whether the president had abandoned the public option caused a fair amount of whiplash. While some felt rear-ended by the administration's apparent retreat, proponents of health-care cooperatives sought to explain how the latter could satisfy all parties and offer a workable solution.

Though some have balked at the public option plan, alongside private insurers it has the best chance of ensuring choice, affordability and cost containment. In the message war, unfortunately, the public option has been married to the words "government takeover." It should not go unnoticed that the interest groups who have the most to lose are the most ardent in opposition. In the American health-care system there is no shortage of heroes, but now what's needed are legislators and a president who can articulate (without hyperbole) the stakes and forge a new path.

By Chris T. Pernell  |  August 20, 2009; 6:05 AM ET  | Category:  Cooperatives , Health Care Reform , Health costs , Insurance Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Your summary is correct. The co-ops will not begin to compete with the large insurance companies. There is no guarantee that these co-ops won't also cherry pick healthy participants to keep costs down. It does not facilitate equal access.
I am disappointed in the process of town halls and media arguing over a healthcare reform bill which doesn't exist. It once again is politics at its worst. They are latching on to "sound bites" and exaggerating them to inflame the public. Unfortunately, the public has a short attention span for any topic before they move on to the next. These politically charged erroneous statements will be difficult to overcome when and if a real healthcare reform bill comes along.

Posted by: DocInTheTrenches | August 23, 2009 1:25 PM
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Nicely stated, Dr. Pernell. You are so right in your summary that the interest groups (and some individuals as some in the U.S. Congress) are most ardent in support since they have the most to lose. In this case, their loss seems to consist primarily of money and any associated power.

Posted by: firme2306 | August 20, 2009 11:06 PM
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