Reform Requires True Bipartisanship

Posted March 9, 2008 at 10:59pm

Many politicians campaign on platforms of change and the ability to reach across the aisle to get things done in Washington. Americans no longer want to hear the talk; they want to see results. We stand with those who say we have waited long enough for a health care prescription for America.

Our nation’s health care system is chronically ill. It’s been more than 13 years since the Senate has taken up health care reform because our last effort was so confrontational and contentious that no one wanted to revisit the issue and reopen those wounds.

As a result, employer-based health care is disintegrating before

our eyes. Business owners are increasingly unable to afford the skyrocketing cost of insuring their employees. As a result, the percentage of Americans covered by employer-based health insurance between 2005 and 2006 has plunged to just above 60 percent — the lowest level since the system was established in 1945. The Census Bureau reports during that period that 2.2 million people lost their health insurance, adding to the 46.5 million Americans already living without coverage.

How does Congress address this problem? Neither an entirely Republican health care reform package nor an entirely Democratic package can succeed; successful health care reform will require true bipartisanship. Republicans will need to acknowledge that Democrats may be right about the need to cover every American, and Democrats will have to acknowledge that Republicans may have it right in saying that market forces can be utilized to promote greater health care innovation and better health choices for consumers.

Our legislation, the Healthy Americans Act, represents the marriage of both Republican and Democratic ideals by providing universal health care coverage through a reformed marketplace.

The Healthy Americans Act offers incentives to all Americans, other than those in Medicare or the military, to buy basic private health plans. It breaks the link between employers and health insurance, which provides portability. No longer would Americans be tied to a job to remain insured. Individuals would be able to take their health insurance with them from job to job. These reforms give individuals more control over where their health care dollars go and will make health care more accessible and affordable.

Individuals at or below the poverty level would receive a full subsidy to purchase insurance. Other low-income families would receive subsidies to cover a portion of premium costs on a sliding scale. States also would be given flexibility to give consumers options in selecting an insurance plan available on the private market.

To do all this, Congress must change the tax code. Currently the tax code directs the biggest health care breaks to the employers instead of individuals, the true consumers. The Healthy Americans Act would rewrite the tax code to give every individual a tax benefit for purchasing health insurance, pushing the health insurance industry to compete on innovation, price, benefits and quality. Giving individuals the power to shop for their own insurance also would promote personal responsibility and preventative medicine.

A more dynamic insurance market also would save money. The Lewin Group, the gold standard of independent health care analysis, has estimated that the Healthy Americans Act may reduce total health care spending by nearly $1.5 trillion over the next decade — savings that would help pay health insurance coverage for those unable to afford a basic plan. Restructuring the current set of inefficient health care tax breaks will ensure that all Americans can afford private health care.

Congress’ failure to address health care reform has resulted in the attempts by many states to fix the broken system. Nearly every state is looking at ways to address the number of uninsured. However, unaided, states cannot fix a problem they did not create. The current health care system and the skyrocketing costs stem from federal decisions outside states’ jurisdictions. The federal government must step up to reform health care. This growing problem has been punted for too long, and the Healthy Americans Act opens a door for dialogue that has been shut for too long.

What will it take from Congress? Cooperation and compromise. Republicans will have to set aside past resistance to the notion of universal coverage because they fear it means a single-payer, government-run system. Democrats will have to get over the idea that private market forces can’t work when it comes to health care reform. The Healthy Americans Act is the middle ground where we can achieve universal health care and utilize market forces by adjusting the federal tax code to produce the portability, flexibility and affordability Americans deserve in a health care system.

On the Senate floor, we often speak about bipartisanship; here is our chance to prove to the American people that we can work together and deliver the promises we made while campaigning. In the Senate, 12 Senators evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats have come together to sponsor the Healthy Americans Act.

We call on all Members to join our efforts and tackle one of the greatest challenges facing our country today. Together, we can write America’s prescription for health care.

Sens. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) are co-sponsors of the Healthy Americans Act.