The Healthy Americans Act takes burden off employers

The Healthy Americans Act is the first bipartisan health reform proposal in more than a decade to guarantee affordable, quality healthcare for all.

Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), a member of the Republican leadership, has joined me on the Senate side to work to pass the legislation. A companion measure is being pursued by Reps. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) in the House.

Despite the scores of dedicated and caring American healthcare providers, our healthcare system is ailing.

The cure? Require Americans to buy a basic health insurance policy for themselves (like we do for auto insurance), reduce healthcare costs by putting individuals into large private insurance “pools,” slash healthcare paperwork and administrative expenses by eliminating several government bureaucracies and establishing electronic transfers and enrollment, and create bold incentives for more preventive care.

Our proposed legislation, the Healthy Americans Act S.334, accomplishes that and more.

The Healthy Americans Act is based on the belief that business owners should no longer bear the primary burden of providing healthcare to working adults and their families. Employer-based health insurance began 60 years ago when America was wrestling with wage and price controls. It makes no sense today when the typical worker changes jobs seven times by age 35 and businesses are up against global competitors who have foreign governments pay their health bills and competitors down the block who choose not to provide healthcare.

Some may question the fairness of requiring individuals to buy a basic health insurance policy. People who are insured today often ask why they should support any changes. Here’s why: as Senator Bennett has often noted, all of us already pay for universal coverage. Federal law entitles anyone who needs it to treatment in the nation’s hospital emergency rooms.

The sponsors of the Healthy Americans Act believe it would be better for everyone’s physical and economic health to find care outside a hospital emergency room wherever possible.

Under the Healthy Americans Act, that’s the way it will be; everyone will have a guarantee to at least the same private health insurance as is available to members of Congress today!

The cost? No more than America spends today.

Our bipartisan proposal addresses all of the key issues:

•Tough cost containment, as the Lewin Group (the gold standard of health policy analysis) reports that it will save almost $1.5 trillion over the next decade by slowing the growth of health costs.

•Real insurance reform that eliminates insurance company “cherry picking” (also known as insuring only the healthy) so companies must compete on the basis of price, benefits and quality.

•Incentives for seniors to stay healthy because they can get reductions in their outpatient premiums for lowering their blood pressure or reducing their cholesterol. Parents who choose to enroll their youngsters in preventive health programs would be eligible for reductions in their premiums. An emphasis on healthcare, not sick care, which is critically important with the huge increase in preventable, chronic illness.

•Redirection of current inefficient healthcare tax breaks, ensuring that all Americans can afford the basic private health plan.

•Easy access to information about available plans, their cost and quality — no more lost hours in the search for quality medical care.

•Incentives for states to enact responsible, legal reforms that reduce defensive medicine and frivolous litigation.

The debate in the Senate has reached a critical moment, at least for this session of Congress. The conventional wisdom is that healthcare reform is an issue for 2009. But with costs skyrocketing, chronic illness increasing and our employers at a competitive disadvantage, Americans can’t afford to wait two more years for action.

That’s why the Healthy Americans Act should be on the congressional calendar today. Our bipartisan coalition believes there is a rare, historical opportunity after 60 years of partisan politics to guarantee affordable, quality healthcare for all Americans.

We hope you will join our coalition.

Wyden is a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

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