Introducing PhilaHealthia, a Cooperative Medical Security System
Few are satisfied with America’s for-profit medical-insurance system as corporate insurers constantly raise premiums, reduce coverage, resist paying and cancel policies.
Many Weavers Way members believe health care is a human right. But thousands of “single payer” conferences, petitions and marches have not prevailed. Nor have elections achieved this goal. Seven Democratic presidents with Democratic majorities have failed. Even the faltering Affordable Care Act leaves 26 million uninsured.
We can’t wait for politicians or corporations to protect us. Self-financing co-ops are weaving a national health system that is democratic, nonprofit, efficient, preventive, holistic and humane.
That’s us, PhilaHealthia, a new nonprofit medical-security system. We will self-insure as a massive group, growing gradually to cover most emergencies. We’ll build free clinics, then micro-hospitals.
Such local and regional co-ops offer a movement that’s both practical and political, from which national coverage can evolve. Welcoming small mutuals into the market would enable Medicaid to expand with less cost.
Weavers Way General Manager Jon Roesser, in a letter of support for our concept last year, said, “This co-op starts small and expands coverage as its assets reliably build.”
This is how Canada’s national medical plan began, with the successful 1946 example of a health co-op in a small Saskatchewan farm town. By 1962, that model had become the official Saskatchewan plan. Ten years later, every Canadian was enrolled.
This is likewise America’s mutual-aid tradition. A hundred years ago, most medical insurance was provided through fraternal organizations. They built hospitals, orphanages and old folks’ homes while paying sickness and death benefits. Membership cost pennies per week.
Twenty years ago, I started a self-financing medical co-op in Ithaca, NY. Growing gradually, as all co-ops do, members of the Ithaca Health Alliance became covered for common emergencies, to expanding maximum amounts, without deductibles, anywhere in the world, for $100 a year. Then we built a free clinic for the entire community.
As more people join PhilaHealthia and renew, the reserve fund and maximum payments would increase. Were membership to stabilize or decline, so would payments. Were Weavers Way’s 8,800 member households with 20,000+ members to join PhilaHealthia, paying $100 each, we’d begin with $2 million.
Members would be welcome regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, medical condition or nationality. Co-op clinics respect women’s rights. We are allied to help one another, rather than exploit pain for profit.
And as in Ithaca, PhilaHealthia members would also receive discounts from participating healers, including holistic modalities, plus doctors, dentists and hospitals. We made interest-free loans to healers and local organic farmers.
Co-ops are able to keep membership fees low by keeping overhead low. Ithaca’s system, with simple payment categories and one employee, paid claims overnight. Members controlled prices by elections and referendums. The maximum salary for administrative staff was twice the local livable wage, to ensure that top staff are more dedicated to the mission than to money.
The community medical co-op movement embraces regulation that ensures our strong standards of integrity and efficiency. We’ve drafted a Community Medical Cost Containment law that specifies these. Ithaca’s plan was approved by New York’s state Insurance Department, Health Department, the county legislature, state assemblywoman, mayor and hospital. And applauded by our members.
A healthy Philadelphia also requires a healthy environment. We’ll sponsor public-health teams that confront polluted soil, water and air, as well as war, which is notoriously unhealthy. PhilaHealthia would start co-op banks specifically to stimulate green jobs and green businesses, by making loans for energy efficiency, solar power, organic agriculture, tiny houses, transit and community currencies.
As grassroots co-ops prove their reliability, local and state governments might match membership fees. Were Medicare-for-All enacted, millions of co-op members would be organized to defend it from inevitable attacks. Doctors would have time to provide careful insight. Holistic healers could prescribe warm hands as well as cold machines. Insurance employees could be retrained to manage healthy cities. Taxpayers and hospitals would pay less for indigent care.
Most importantly, when billions of dollars move from insurance payments into the productive economy, millions of new jobs will be created.
The middle class, liberated from medical costs, could build additional member-owned safety nets for housing and finance. We might become what may be called the Mutual Class, getting ahead by getting together.
Before launch, PhilaHealthia seeks volunteers to prepare its open source relational database. Visit philahealthia.org for more information.