Hope for Health Care Reform

The President’s summit on health care was, well, interesting to say the least. As we all expected, there was no shortage of political grandstanding on both sides, Democratic and Republican.

But the summit was not all for naught, and that’s because a couple of things have become crystal clear in the wake of the summit.

First, most Americans agree that our health care system is far from perfect. Affordable and adequate health insurance is out of reach for too many people, especially the working poor. We need reform.

Second, as David Brooks notes in the New York Times, there is a vast philosophical divide between the Democrats and the Republicans that we may not be able to bridge this year. On the one side, the Democrats seem intent on reform through increasing government’s role in health care. The Republicans, on the other side, are firm in their belief that reform should come through better regulated free markets.

We find ourselves at a critical juncture. With this philosophical divide in place, the Democrats may very well opt to use a procedural device to ram their version of health care reform through Congress. This would be a tragic mistake, for the Democratic Party and for the nation. Such a move would bitterly divide the country. The fact is that most Americans oppose the Democratic plan.

So here we are, on the verge of launching the most radical, overwhelming, expensive social program of the last half century, and to do it, instead of building popular support and compromising, the Democratic leadership wants to rely on arcane Senate rules to accomplish it lock, stock, and barrel.

It could spell electoral catastrophe for the Democrats in November.

And the Republicans know it. That’s why, as David Brooks noted, they’re quite happy to sit back and let the Democrats self-destruct, even if it means the Democrats succeed in enacting horrifically bad legislation. The Republicans are playing politics at the wrong time, and perhaps at the expense of the national welfare.

So to both sides, I say, “Enough!” Enough of playing politics with our health care. There are real, tangible reforms that you can accomplish now—reforms that will benefit everybody.

First, put aside the trial lawyers’ contributions and let’s have genuine tort reform. That will save us untold billions in frivolous lawsuits—lawsuits that drive up the cost of malpractice insurance (which doctors pass on to us) and that force doctors to perform unnecessary procedures.

Second, allow for interstate competition for health insurance. The Republicans are pushing for it, and the President thinks the idea has merit. Good.

Third, make sure that people with pre-existing conditions can get health insurance.

Fourth, open Medicaid to the working poor.

And fifth, for heaven’s sake, reform and better regulate Medicare. I say that as a senior who has seen what waste goes on.

Now, leaders on both sides can agree on these steps, without abandoning or even compromising their philosophical positions. Will they have to look at their own special interest groups and say, “Sorry”? Sure, but so what. To the public you’ll be heroes.

We’ve reached the stage where, for the health of our health care system and our future, both sides must stop playing politics.

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