This past weekend, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that a public option was “not the essential element” to health care reform, asserting that other venues for reform existed, such as health care co-ops. Such a plan has been echoed by the Gang of 6 in the Senate, endorsed by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND).

Is this a victory? Has ObamaCare been defeated? Unfortunately, no. Although it sounds benign, a federal health care co-op is nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing.   Wikipedia defines cooperatives as “autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” Examples include rural electric co-ops, farmers’ exchanges, or real estate arrangements.

Unfortunately, a federal health care co-op would be neither jointly-owned nor democratically-controlled. The plan, as it stands, would create government-funded, government-controlled entities. The board and directors of the co-ops would be selected by the government; decisions about care would be in the hands of bureaucrats, not patients; and any care provided would still be subject to the heavy-handed regulations and mandates a public plan would be. Hardly consumer-driven, indeed.   Fortunately, Republicans, and the public at large, don’t seem to be fooled by the administration’s semantic bait-and-switch, and aren’t buying what the president is selling. Democrats continue to scream holy murder that they’ve been sold out, even though Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) acknowledged in July that there wasn’t much difference at all, really: “‘We’re going to have some type of public option, call it “co-op,” call it what you want,’ Reid said, adding that Democrats are working on ‘some version of a co-op that may satisfy everyone.'”

Public options and co-ops aside, the two central issues on the table still remain – who will make the decisions about access and quality of care, and who will control the money?

Let consumers determine the kind of care they want, when they want it. Remove the many layers of red tape between a patient and his or her doctor. Empower individuals to make their own health care choices and decide when, where, why, and how they want to spend their personal health care dollars. It’s important that these crucial decisions not be surrendered to an anonymous government bureaucrat. A co-op will do just that.