sustainable co-op healthcare

a beautiful example to translate/incorporate/learn from: article and slideshow

April 26, 2009
City Visible

The Doctor in the Kitchen

DR. DAVID ORES pays $700 a month for an apartment in a low-income housing complex on Avenue B on the Lower East Side, owns two Harleys and has on his left arm a tattoo of a naked woman wearing a pink cowboy hat.

Dr. Ores is also a physician who runs a nonprofit health care cooperative for city restaurant workers that he sees as a model for how national health care could work. The undertaking, which he began last summer, is particularly timely as President Obama contemplates an overhaul of the nation’s health insurance system.

“It’s like a food co-op,” Dr. Ores, 51, said of the project. “Except it’s health care.”

Under the plan, he charges each restaurant a dollar each month for every seat in the establishment and pools the money. In return, any employee from those restaurants can visit him free of charge, whether for a cut finger or the flu.

The need is acute: A 2005 study by the New York State Restaurant Association reported that almost 75 percent of the city’s restaurant workers — about 120,000— have no health insurance.

Dr. Ores began a test run of the program last summer, and with 15 restaurants now signed up, he plans to expand further into the Lower East Side and to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

I first met Dr. Ores last summer. At the time, I was uninsured and in need of a checkup, so a friend suggested that I stop by the doctor’s office, at 15 Clinton Street. As is the case with the 60 to 70 people he treats on average each week, he simply asked that I pay whatever I could afford.

He is able to manage financially, he said, because the Lower East Side People’s Mutual Housing Association, the organization that runs the buildings where his office and apartment are located, offers reduced rents.

And he is excited about the future of operations like his.

“The function of us is to keep people out of the emergency room and from coughing in your salad,” he said. “It’s a little microcosm of how national health care could work.”

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