This got me excited. On Friday, Senator Tom Daschle announced that Obama’s transition team is seeking input from Americans about how to improve the national healthcare system. He asked that we volunteer to hold meetings in our homes and communities to discuss options for reform, and then offer our best ideas to the transition team. Daschle’s even promised to make a guest appearance at one of the meetings. If you sign up on the transition website to host a meeting, they’ll send you a moderator kit with all you need to effectively lead it, and turn in your notes to the people in charge of the country. They might even send Tom Daschle himself.
Were I to host a meeting (and I just might), I would make it a point to talk about the rarely discussed option of co-op community health insurance. I was fortunate enough to live in Ithaca, NY at a time when the community was organizing a co-op health fund, the purpose of which was to provide emergency and backup health insurance coverage to the uninsured and under-insured. When I joined the Ithaca Health Alliance in 2002, the cost of membership was $100 per year, and health services covered were limited to broken bones and ambulance rides. It seemed like not so much coverage at the time, but I took what I could get, since my employer wasn’t offering a nickel’s worth of mainstream coverage.
Six years later, Ithaca Health Alliance, running on the $100 a year per adult/$175 per couple/$50 per child it still charges, has opened its own Free Clinic, which provides 100% free health services to any member of the community who is uninsured. The Ithaca Health Fund also provides up to $4000 of health coverage per year for any of its members. After just a few years of accumulating community funds under the auspices of the local Ithaca community, it’s a completely workable health insurance organization that’s universally affordable, and doesn’t discriminate. Anyone in New York State can join, for the same nominal fee.
Of course, some Americans need more health care than $4000 can pay for in a year. But isn’t this a fantastic start? Wouldn’t you like to see organizations like this crop up in every community, making health care fully accessible to everyone who wants it?
I would. And as a matter of fact, we almost had one here in Pennsylvania. The founder of the Ithaca Health Alliance, Paul Glover, a former Ithacan who now teaches at Temple University, began organizing a similar health co-op a few years ago, when he moved to Philadelphia. (He called it PhilaHealthia.) When the Philadelphia Insurance Department was asked to endorse it, however, not only did it refuse, but it ordered Glover to “cease and desist”—making it illegal to continue the program, despite its demonstrated success in New York State, and despite guarantees of full transparency and accountability. Uninsured Philadelphians everywhere (by recent estimates there are more than 135,000 in the city; 900,000 in the state) have written desperate, pleading letters to the Insurance Department to approve the program, but it won’t budge.
I, for one, am asking the Obama transition team to consider federal intervention into state health insurance departments like Pennsylvania’s, such that community-run programs which offer concrete and practical solutions to the American health care/health insurance crisis cannot be indiscriminately prohibited by insurance company-dominated state regimes. If you have innovative thoughts on solving the health care crisis, I encourage you to take a moment to offer them to all of us, as well.