Q: What is the history of health care co-ops in America?

A: Very uneven. Many have failed over the decades because they were unable to compete effectively or because tensions between doctors and consumer-oriented governing boards could not be resolved. But some, including a co-op in Washington state, have operated successfully.

Q: What would be the federal government’s role?

A: The government would provide up to $6 billion to get co-ops started. After a few years it would turn over all operations to the co-ops’ governing boards, and the co-ops would become self-sustaining. Conrad has yet to say whether co-ops should be required to repay some of the federal money.

Q: What are the biggest complaints about health care co-ops?

A: Critics on the left say they would be weaker than a government-run insurance plan and therefore unable to really compete with private insurers. Critics on the right say taxpayers and politicians might be too invested in co-ops to ever agree to eliminate the government’s role in them.