How to get reform now

It’s not that Republicans and Democrats cannot find areas of agreement. To the contrary, a number of meaningful reforms could be enacted right now, with the support of elected officials from across the political spectrum.

The problem is that the current healthcare debate has ignored this common ground and instead focused on the most divisive approaches to health care reform — radical policy shifts that polarize the nation and create gridlock on Capitol Hill.

For months, I have been urging the Democratic majority to press the “reset” button on healthcare reform. The goal is not to stop healthcare reform — it’s to speed it up. Rather than spending months or even years wrangling over proposals that divide the American people, Congress should act quickly to address the problems we know how to solve — in ways our nation can afford.

Members of both political parties have argued that the government should not interfere in the relationship between patients and their doctors. For that reason, we should set aside proposals — such as the Orwellian Health Choices Administration called for in the House Democrats’ plan — that instill fear in the American public about federal dictates and mandates.

Members of both political parties have commented on the need to control medical costs and move to a more efficient system that rewards high quality care. Yet CBO reports the Democrats’ proposals do little, if anything, to bend the healthcare cost curve. Rather than promote personal responsibility and reform existing government payment systems to reward lower-cost, higher-quality medical care, the current Democratic proposals perpetuate a flawed system while raising taxes and choking economic growth.

Members of both political parties have emphasized fiscal responsibility in healthcare reform. Yet CBO estimates the House Democrats’ plan would increase the deficit by $239 billion in the first 10 years — adding $60 billion to the deficit each year when the bill’s elements are fully in effect. This, because the tax increases called for by Democrats would be imposed immediately, but the new spending would be delayed.

Knowing what approaches not to take, it’s time to turn our attention to the areas on which Republicans and Democrats can agree.

We agree Americans who lose or change jobs should continue to have access to affordable healthcare coverage. We agree that high-quality medical care should be rewarded, and high-cost medical care should be controlled. We agree Americans with pre-existing conditions should not be denied healthcare coverage. And, judging by recent overtures from President Barack Obama, we agree meaningful medical liability reform is necessary to bring down the cost of healthcare.

With these commonsense principles as starting points, it’s not difficult to see specific policy solutions that should garner bipartisan support. For example, every individual and small business should have access to the same tax incentives and pooling opportunities enjoyed by unions and large corporations. Americans should be able to purchase health insurance across state lines. Antiquated healthcare payment systems that reward volume, rather than quality, need to be changed. And young people should be permitted to stay on their parents’ health plans longer.

Universal access programs would reform state-based high-risk pools and reinsurance programs to strengthen and expand coverage for those with medical conditions, chronic or otherwise, who may have difficulty in securing affordable medical coverage and care. And we should look to states such as California and Texas for proven examples of effective medical liability reform measures that lower the price of malpractice insurance and keep defensive medicine from driving up the cost of care.

These are just a few, concrete examples of policy reforms that are consistent with the healthcare reform principles Republicans have set forth. Democrats claim to support these same principles — the question is simply whether they’re willing to work together to act quickly on the policies that will get us there.

Kline is senior Republican on the House Committee on Education and Labor.