Despite what some believe is a weak track record, Senator Kent Conrad, D-N.D., wants to deliver health care coverage to the uninsured by starting up new cooperatives modeled on rural electric cooperatives that were founded during the Great Depression. But, experts are quick to point out that the rural electric cooperatives still rely heavily on federal credit subsidies, have weak balance sheets and, some studies suggest, operate less efficiently than privately-owned utilities.
Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., a critic of rural electric cooperatives, says he wants everybody covered and it to be affordable and co-ops could do that. However, Cooper warns that the new cooperatives would require close regulation to avoid many of the problems that afflict rural electric co-ops.
Conrad believes that co-ops can be effective. He cites the success of the model at Land O'Lakes, Ace Hardware and Group Health, a health-care co-op with 600,000 members in Washington State.