April 18, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Congress Should Reform Health Care Kennedy’s Way

Some good principles were laid out in a National Press Club speech in 2008 by Donald B. Snow, CEO of Medco, the pharmacy management company.

“First, he said, we need to keep it simple. Complex solutions always fail. Second, we need to phase in incremental changes. Revolutionary reform is rejected by our society.

“Finally, and most importantly, we must carefully define the roles of the private sector and the government. ... The government’s strength is to promulgate and regulate. The private sector’s strength is to operate and innovate.”

Another piece of good advice came from former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) in last Sunday’s New York Times.

He counseled passing health reform the way he, President Ronald Reagan and others enacted tax reform in 1986 — by combining top priorities of both parties.

For health care, that would mean universal coverage for Democrats and significant medical malpractice reform for Republicans.

Republicans also favor, as should many Democrats, enabling uninsured individuals and the self-employed to get the same tax advantages as do people insured by their employers.

Practically everyone — including health insurance companies — agree that the insurance market needs to be reformed to eliminate exclusions based on pre-existing conditions, denial of coverage to the sick and placing caps on coverage.

If those mandates are imposed, premiums will rise for everyone who has insurance — unless there is a mandate that everyone have insurance, including young, healthy people who now think they can go without.

Reports have it that Obama plans to change his emphasis in selling reform this fall to the moral case that 47 million Americans should not go uninsured.

It’s the right strategy, but he should combine it with the self-interest argument that covering everyone will hold down premium increases for those who already have insurance.

It will also hold down costs if a new malpractice system is created — including specialized “medical courts” to replace juries — so that doctors stop practicing “defensive medicine” to avoid getting sued.

And, to achieve bipartisanship, Obama will have to jettison a Medicare-like public plan, but to appease liberals he could resurrect the idea of a “trigger” that would put a public plan into place if insurance companies fail to deliver on required reforms.

Edward Kennedy surely would not have been happy with such concessions, but would he have made them to achieve universal coverage, the top priority of his career? I bet he’d be negotiating with Republicans on it as we speak. And so should Obama.

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