There’s a lesson to be learned from Seattle's Group Health Cooperative, but it’s not the one Senator Maria Cantwell has been offering.

To hear Cantwell and other moderate Democrats tell it, one of the best ways for Congress to fix the nation’s broken health care system this year would be to create a bunch of Group Health clones all over the country. “I think Group Health has done well in the Pacific Northwest,” Cantwell said on June 22, pushing the idea that all of America should follow the Seattle-based health care provider’s lead. “It’s a tested system.”

The Senator has fuzzed-up her position somewhat since that day, but she still supports the idea that the Group Health model could work nationally—and it's not hard to guess at the political reason for this.

In promoting the Group Health model, Cantwell is toeing a line laid down by senior members of a powerful Senate committee on which she sits: the Finance Committee. These political heavies, who are going to play an outsized role in the way Congress tackles health care reform this fall, have recently latched on to the so-called “co-op compromise” as a way of gaining enough votes to pass some kind of reform bill. Naturally, a place called Group Health Co-operative is being used to make their case.

When you step back, it’s a bit bizarre. Suddenly the idea of locally-run health care co-operatives, which sounds pretty damn socialist, has come to be seen as less socialist than the idea of a nation-wide health care plan” run by the government?

But that’s politics.

The real question: Is Group Health Co-operative, founded in 1947 and currently the second-largest health insurer in Washington State, really the national model that supporters of the co-op compromise think it is?

The answer, in parts, as the day goes on.