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Enzi: Common Sense Has Left the Building

Before I came to the Senate, I was a small-business man. My wife and I owned three shoe stores. When I was showing someone a shoe and he said he didn’t like it or couldn’t afford it, I didn’t try another sales pitch. I knew it was time to find another shoe — one he liked and could afford.

There’s a lesson in that story when it comes to health care reform. The American people don’t like the partisan bills that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are selling. And the American people can’t afford these bills, either. They’re begging us, in phone calls, letters, e-mails, town halls and protests, to go back to the stock room and show them something much different, and something much more affordable.

The American people want health care reform that will expand access, improve quality and reduce costs. Unfortunately, when they look at the partisan bills that Pelosi and Reid have put forward, they see 2,000-page monstrosities that will drive up their health care costs, increase their taxes, cut their Medicare benefits and rob them of the right to see the doctors they choose. They know these bills will add to the country’s debt, and they’re afraid that Congress is willing to mortgage their children’s and grandchildren’s futures in exchange for short-term political gain.

Luckily for all Americans, it’s not too late to send the flawed bills back to the stock room. The majority should get to work with Republicans on a series of bipartisan proposals that will earn the trust and confidence of the American people.

Here’s how it could work: Instead of one party trying to jam through a starkly partisan bill, we would work together on behalf of the American people. Rather than dealing with 2,000-page bills that bite off way more than we can chew, we would go step by step, dealing with the problems in our health care system, and earning public faith along the way. We would not hike taxes on middle-class families and small businesses, or cut Medicare benefits for seniors, to create costly new entitlements. We would work to reduce health care costs and make insurance more affordable. We would not resort to dishonest accounting gimmicks to hide the costs of our proposals. Washington, D.C., also should not tell you what kind of insurance to buy and fine you if you don’t.

If we took this approach, there are a number of areas where we could quickly find agreement and make progress to reduce health care costs, expand access to health insurance for all, and improve the quality of care that patients receive.

Study after study shows that the Pelosi/Reid bills would drive up health care costs for most American families, breaking the promises that President Barack Obama made to the American people. In 2005, I brought a bill to the Senate floor that would have allowed small businesses to band together across state lines and use their increased numbers to negotiate the kinds of lower-cost, higher-quality health insurance plans that larger companies get. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said my bill would reduce costs for small businesses and save taxpayer money. Let’s make small-business health plans happen as part of health care reform.

The Pelosi/Reid bills expand the role of government, but they don’t promote real competition to bring down costs or improve quality. We know that by allowing people to buy health insurance across state lines, we can help people find affordable plans that meet their needs, and force insurance companies to reduce the costs and improve the quality of their plans. Let’s make insurance companies compete for our business.

Our country’s lawyer-centered medical liability system doesn’t serve patients or doctors, and it is a driving factor behind skyrocketing health care costs. Even Obama has called for medical liability reform. Yet the Pelosi/Reid bills specifically prohibit states from taking meaningful action to reduce the costs of junk lawsuits. That only makes sense if you’re counting campaign contributions from the trial bar. Let’s enact meaningful reform that will cut costs, improve patient safety, get more of the money for the injured party quicker, and get doctors out of the courtroom and back in the operating room — the American people will appreciate it, even if the trial lawyers don’t.

We need to protect patients by prohibiting insurance companies from discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. No one should be denied health insurance, and no one should lose their health insurance because they checked the wrong box on a form. Let’s make sure that all Americans can get the care they need.

By boosting competition and reducing costs, we could make these changes without increasing taxes on middle-class families and small businesses, cutting benefits for seniors or adding trillions to the deficit. These steps would put us on the right path toward health care reform that would truly reduce health care costs, improve quality and expand coverage. These changes could have bipartisan support and would earn the confidence of the American people.

It’s not too late for common-sense, bipartisan health care reform to give every American access to quality, affordable care. Let’s scrap the Pelosi/Reid bills, start over, and give the American people the right fit in reform — a bill they want, deserve and can afford.

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) is ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

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