Common sense ideas for health care reform

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By The Staff

We can all agree America needs healthcare reform, and an important debate is taking place in this country about how to best achieve that. I think answers can be found in the story of the government’s “Cash for Clunkers” and stimulus programs. The problems with these programs show why Americans are right to be skeptical of a government takeover of health care.

Congress set aside $1 billion this June for Cash for Clunkers, encouraging people to trade in their older cars for newer, more fuel-efficient models. That amount was supposed to last for several months—until it ran out in just one week, prompting Congress to rush a $2-billion extension before anyone even had time to figure out what happened to the first billion.

Many of the same folks told us earlier this year that we had to rush to pass a $1-trillion stimulus bill with the promise that it would “save or create” millions of jobs. Instead, we’ve lost two million jobs since it was passed.

Now the same people who brought you Cash for Clunkers and the trillion-dollar stimulus have another idea. They want to go down the road toward a government takeover of America’s health care system.

Getting the cost estimates for Cash for Clunkers wrong—wildly wrong—was just embarrassing. Getting health care wrong, however, could cost trillions of dollars, add to our unsustainable national debt, force Americans off the health insurance they already have and like, leave them paying more for worse care than they now receive, and lead to the same kind of denial, delay, and rationing of care we see in other countries.

But there are some positive steps government can take that should be easy for everyone to agree on and that would make health care less expensive and more accessible.

Junk lawsuits on doctors and hospitals drive up healthcare costs and limit access to care in many places, including Kentucky, by forcing these providers, in many cases, to limit the care they provide. Placing reasonable limits on medical-liability lawsuits can lower costs.

Most insurance plans pay for care when people get sick but don’t do enough to encourage them to stay healthy. Programs that provide incentives to do things like exercise regularly or stop smoking can drive down costs. Any healthcare reform Congress enacts ought to provide these incentives.

Many Americans want to make sure their insurance will cover treatments for their pre-existing health conditions. We should work to provide those protections, without unnecessarily raising the costs on millions of Americans who have coverage today.

Congress can also fix unfair tax laws concerning health care. Right now, companies that provide health insurance to their employees can deduct the cost of those premiums from their taxes. But individuals who buy their own coverage cannot. Congress should change that. We should also not burden small businesses with new taxes or mandates that will kill jobs.

These are common-sense ideas that both Republicans and Democrats could meet in the middle on. Then Congress could enact healthcare reform that all of us want—and that all Americans could embrace.

In hindsight, it’s clear the Cash for Clunkers and stimulus programs were rushed through and not well thought out, and certainly did not deliver as advertised. We can’t make the same mistakes with America’s health care—it’s just too important.

Congress and the president ought to work together to come to agreement on sensible, bipartisan reform. And we need to be sure to listen to the American people and pass the kind of reforms that really work. Otherwise, we could end up with a real clunker.

Senator Mitch McConnell