Take the time to get reform right

Haste, as you’ve probably heard countless times, makes waste. Here in Congress, the costs and consequences of rushing to act can be grave. These risks are particularly critical to bear in mind as Congress begins action on healthcare reform. The wrong action would not only waste hundreds of billions of dollars, it would put the healthcare of every American family on the line.

There has never been a bill so complex that personally affects so many people. Americans of every political party and income bracket share strong concerns about healthcare. If members of both sides are committed to finding real, bipartisan solutions then we will find areas of agreement to reduce costs and expand coverage.

Getting a workable solution will require the effort of every member of the Senate, and that’s why we need to listen to all ideas. If only 51 senators vote for a new healthcare plan, then the American people will not have confidence in it and it probably won’t work. But if we write a bill that 80 Senators can support, the plan will work and have the confidence of the American people.

Members on both sides of the aisle are releasing their own plans, and that’s fine. We can use ideas from their plans to build a truly bipartisan proposal, but a truly bipartisan bill starts with a blank sheet of paper and a willingness to incorporate each other’s ideas. Taking the time to get this right is more important than rushing to meet arbitrary deadlines, because if Congress gets this wrong, we might not be able to go back and fix it.

Our current system of health insurance and medical services promotes inefficiency, encourages waste and invites fraud. If we do nothing to fix this broken system, you will continue paying more and more money for less and less care. You will fill out more forms and wait longer to get the tests and see the doctors you need. There will be fewer doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals to care for an increasing number of patients. If Congress rushes through the wrong kind of reform, it could get even worse.

The truth is some people like the healthcare they have. They should be able to keep it. Others don’t have coverage or are worried they could lose it. We must make quality, affordable healthcare available to all Americans, but to do that we must bring down costs.

I believe a patient-focused healthcare system will provide the highest quality and the lowest costs when companies are fighting for your business. When you can vote with your feet, you will force insurance companies to deliver better quality care at lower costs.

Look at the Medicare Part D Program as an example. Thanks to the injection of competition and choice into Medicare prescription drugs, seniors are getting the drugs they need, the program has an 85 percent satisfaction rate, and it costs 37 percent less than expected. Seniors can choose the plans that meet their needs at affordable prices each year. They can change every year if they don’t get what they expect, their prescriptions change, or they can find a better deal. Try that with any government agency!

Contrast that with another government-run healthcare program, in which bureaucrats and politicians would ration needed healthcare services. Squeezing the marketplace like this would drive up costs and drive down quality, and it would put a Washington bureaucrat between you and your doctor. Washington bureaucrats would be able to deny you and your family the care you need. You and your family would have to wait weeks for tests and months for treatment, just like they do in places like Canada and the United Kingdom where the government runs healthcare.

People need more than healthcare coverage — they need healthcare access. Under government-rationed healthcare, you wouldn’t be able to get the care you need when you need it. When you or your child gets sick, you should have the security of being able to see the doctor you need. You shouldn’t have to wait weeks to see a doctor or months to see a specialist. We must make sure that you and your family can get the care you need, when you need it.

A bipartisan healthcare reform bill will bring down costs, but many working Americans will still need help to purchase health insurance. Rather than creating a costly public plan where people will have to wait months for treatment, we should provide subsidies to low-income Americans to give them the extra help they need to purchase quality health insurance.

We should foster an atmosphere of competition by demanding that insurers compete on price and value, rather than picking lower-cost, lower-risk patients. No health insurance company should be able to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. You shouldn’t live with the worry that if you lose your job, you and your family will lose your health insurance.

When most people go to the doctor, they don’t know what they’re paying for or how much it costs until they get the bill, and the unexpected costs can be devastating. That doesn’t make sense. We need to make sure you have the information you need about the costs and quality of healthcare providers and insurance plans to make the right choices for your family. Shining a light on costs and quality will put pressure on insurance companies and providers to provide better value.

Even though we will cut healthcare costs, a massive expansion of healthcare coverage will still cost money. Congress has to pay for healthcare reform without increasing our national debt because our nation’s credit card has reached its limit. If we are serious about healthcare reform we have to get serious about finding bipartisan ways to pay for it.

Enzi is ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.