In my post Capitalism as a Belief System, I mentioned the idea of using capitalism as a way of running an economy without buying in to capitalism as a belief system.
I think I've already explained what I mean by not buying into capitalism as a belief system: a rejection of the idea that any and every enterprise "should" or "must" be run according to the principle of maximum return per unit of risk. In my previous post, I suggested that the health-care area was one area where I'd personally want to use the Golden Rule as the governing value. I accept that there is much debate about the values surrounding healthcare, but I just want to suggest here a mechanism by which the operating systems of capitalism can be used for more altruistic ends. That mechanism is the co-operative enterprise.
Before anyone feels that they need to enlighten me about the facts, co-operative enterprises are not new nor do I claim to have invented the idea. As businesses, they tend to work very much in the same way as ordinary businesses: investors, a managing board, operations management, employees and customers/clients. The difference between a co-op and a profit-seeking organization is their reason for existing. Almost all for-profits business exist with the ultimate sole goal of maximizing profits. Co-ops exist for the benefit of stakeholders.
Probably one of the most well-known forms of co-operative in the United States are old-fashioned credit unions. You become a member of a credit union, deposit some money in a savings account, and get a return on your money from monies that the credit union lends to other credit union members. In the old days, you couldn't borrow money from a co-op until you had deposited a sum of money for a specified period of time.
What is the point of a credit union? To hopefully provide a service to members whereby: 1) they have access to loans which they would not have otherwise had access to; 2) they have access to a good rate of return on their savings and; 3) they have access to a good borrowing rate on their loans. The primary goal here is not for the credit union to make a profit to reinvest in order to grow and provide shareholders or owners with an ever-increasing earnings stream. The primary goal is to provide a decent, basic savings and loan service to members.
It seems obvious to me that health insurance could be run on similar principles. I know that in California, homeowners who cannot otherwise find home insurance due to a high risk of fire in their area can insure their homes through a type of State insurance which seeks only to cover the costs of claims. On a much more simple level, the Amish operate a system whereby every family puts a sum of money into a "pot" and medical care is paid out of this pot. There are also a couple of medical cost-sharing schemes run by Christians for Christians (which typically require you to sign up to a doctrinal statement!) which aim at members covering the cost of other members.
Will co-operative health insurance solve the current crisis of health-care costs? No, I don't think so. The causes are many and complex but a lot of them can easily be filed under the two basic categories that drive all capital markets: fear and greed. Fear of not having the absolute cutting edge drug or treatment; fear of not having the best possible consumer choice if one has the money to purchase it.
The underlying problem is spiritual, it is a problem of values, as I suggested in my last post. We simply cannot countenance a health-care system that is run for the general good which might limit the ability of the very rich to buy cutting-edge medical care. In money we trust. We are happy to tell the working person that he has no right to a vaccination if he cannot afford it, because what we are absolutely certain of is that the rich person has the right to expensive experimental drugs if she can afford it.