Christopher tm Herdt (cherdt) wrote,
Christopher tm Herdt

Paul Glover and co-op health care: PhilaHealthia

Paul Glover, who created the successful Ithaca HOURs community currency, now lives in Philadelphia. He spoke last night at Robin's Bookstore about PhilaHealthia, his plan to create a low-cost health insurance co-op. Apparently, he already founded one in Ithaca, NY: the Ithaca Health Alliance, which has met with some success.

well_lahdidah and I went to see the talk. There were only a dozen or so people there. I was expecting Paul to be a dynamic and compelling speaker, the kind of speaker who inspires people. Instead he was soft-spoken and had a tendency to ramble. It was hard to say where the talk was going, exactly, and he focused very little on the goals of PhilaHealthia.

At one point, a drug-addled stander-by in an Eagles jacket chimed in: "Do you know what you should do? This will totally work and you will totally get the money you need to get this thing started. Everybody has to start playing the lottery, and you have to play the same numbers. You have to play the same numbers, because if you focus on those numbers, all of you, you will win. Go see the movie The Secret. It's the Law of Attraction."

I was laughing out loud at this crackpot, but after 5 minutes my nerves started to wear thin. And Paul Glover was too polite to stop him, or perhaps too afraid of losing 1/12 of his audience. I was about to stand up and say, "We came here to listen to him [Paul Glover], not you. Please let the man speak," when the crackpot finally decided, on his own, that it was time to leave.

Unfortunately, he was replaced by a late-comer crackpot with a speech impediment, which meant that his tirade against aluminum poisoning took even longer to spit out. That sounds mean-spirited of me, I know, but his comments were entirely off-topic.

After an hour of rambling from these parties, it was 8:00 P.M. and we decided it was long past time to leave. I have no idea if the discussion really came to a point or not, but here are some of the key points:
  • There used to be mutual aid associations provided through fraternal organizations, such as the Shriners, Elks, Oddfellows, and Masons. Members would pay a monthly fee, and in a time of need could call upon the accumulated resources. Apparently some churches still do this today.

  • Business influenced government to regulate the insurance industry, which apparently put a stop to mutual aid organizations.

  • The state of New York tried to stop the Ithaca Health Alliance, but they were too well regarded by the community. Apparently it continues to operate in a limbo status: neither legally recognized, nor illegal. However, as part of the agreement, they cannot accept members outside of the state of New York (which is why PhilaHealthia can't directly piggyback on IHA's success).

  • Such a cooperative, under current Pennsylvania law, would be illegal. Although it was not explained in any detail why a health insurance co-operative would be illegal, well_lahdidah later suggested to be that it might require substantial capital to meet the state's requirements.

  • The problem with starting such a co-op, from the ground up, is that in the beginning the treasury would be extremely limited. You might pay $100 a year, but in the beginning you might be reimbursed for only a select few medical expenses, and even then the reimbursement amounts would not be very high. As membership grows, coverage would improve as they could better guarantee coverage. To try to solve this, Paul asked people to sign a pledge sheet, saying that they would join once he'd collected 1000 pledges. That way, the organization would start with at least $100,000.

Paul's talk lacked direction, but so did the aims of his fledgling organization. I think he wants it to be too many things to too many people. He was talking about growing orchards on vacant city lots to provide healthy organic food to the poor. He was talking about offering holistic medicine and massage therapy at free clinics that would be funded by PhilaHealthia. That's trying to do too much. I think he should focus on one thing: providing reimbursement for qualifying health expenses to members. And I think most of you already know how I feel about holistic medicine and massage therapy, and why I would not want to pay so that other people could be tended to by quacks and con-artists.

I still think it is an interesting idea, and I'll probably continue to follow the progress of PhilaHealthia. But all in all, it was a very disappointing talk, and as well_lahdidah reminded me frequently, I owe her sushi big time for dragging her out to such a debacle.
Tags: philadelphia

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