The Canberra Times reports that the National Health Co-op, founded six years ago as Canberra’s West Belconnen Health Cooperative, now has seven medical clinics across the ACT, with another about to open in Higgins and then Yass. 33,000 patients have signed up – about 10% of the ACT.

About The Co-op

The co-op was formed by residents frustrated at the lack of bulk-billing GPs. Adults pay $100 a year plus a $30 joining fee to become members of the co-op, allowing unlimited access to bulk-billed primary care services. Members’ children under 18 are free.

Services at the clinics include general practice, podiatry, psychology, asthma and diabetes education, mental health, physiotherapy, child, teen and aged health, dietetics, counsellors and social workers.

Adrian Watts, the co-op’s CEO, says:

“We realised we couldn’t just keep this model here in the ACT, it’s too big a prospect – from my side, I couldn’t ethically just keep this here and not give this to the rest of Australia…

I had firsthand experience of waiting in a line for three or four hours trying to see a GP myself…

Co-operatives are really going to be the way of the future over the next couple of decades in Australia – it’s that gap between what governments can’t solve and what business chooses not to.”

The Business Approach And The Co-op Approach

With a co-operative, no dividends can be paid back to members. A private business might have to return 30 per cent to its shareholders every year but for the health co-op, this means the money earned goes to health services.

About this part of the market business says:

“We’re not really interested…in operating a four-GP practice because we’d rather run 20 and then we can make a lot of money.”

On behalf of the co-op Adrian says:

“I understand that…but it leaves open a whole lot of the market where the community can take the value…

We’ve proved in the healthcare system that you can keep the value back in the healthcare system by keeping it owned by the consumer.”

The Future

Adrian discussed the co-op’s plans with mayors from every state and territory, at the recent Local Government Association conference in Canberra.

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