SEN. MICHAEL ENZI: I'll Embrace Bipartisanship, If Obama Will, Too

When President Obama addresses the American people tonight to discuss health care, he has the opportunity to plot a course correction and put us on the path toward common sense, consensus health care reform.

I have said repeatedly that we need health care reform, but we need to get it right. The president has laid out clear goals for health care reform that Republicans strongly support. I still stand ready to work with the administration and Democrats and Republicans in Congress to enact reforms that meet those shared goals-- reducing costs, expanding coverage, improving quality, allowing Americans to keep the care they have, if they like it, and holding down the nation’s deficit and debt.

To achieve bipartisan reform, we have to set aside the most contentious pieces and focus on areas where we can reach agreement. I hope that when the president speaks to Congress and the country tonight, he too will focus on those areas where we agree on the goals and principles but need to work out the details. If he focuses on these provisions, which Republicans, Democrats and independents across the country could support, he will move us in the direction toward consensus on health care reform. In other words, the president should scrap the partisan bills that have already passed in Congressional committees and begin with a new, reasonable and bipartisan approach that the American people can believe in.

Insurance reforms would give the American people the health care security they need. Insurance companies should not be able to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions and should not be allowed to drop people when they face serious illness or lose their jobs.

If we enact these common sense reforms, we will force insurers to compete on a level playing field on the basis of the value they provide to their enrollees, rather than their ability to game the marketplace and gain unfair advantages. This will boost meaningful competition and give people real choices. When companies have to compete for business and patients can vote with their feet, insurance companies will have to provide better value. By giving people access to more, better information about the costs and quality of health care services and health insurance options, we can let them make informed choices for their families.

We should allow small businesses and working families, who do not get insurance through their employer, to band together across state lines and use their combined negotiating power to negotiate more affordable, higher quality plans. We can also look at private, non-profit health insurance cooperatives, where people could join together to get lower rates and coverage. But we must keep in mind that affordable, accessible, quality health care lies in private competition not government control.

Republicans agree with the president that we have to pay for reform. Americans are greatly concerned with runaway deficits and they do not want to pass trillions of dollars in debt onto their children and grandchildren.

In the long-term, we can pay for reform by bending the cost curve and reducing total health care spending. President Obama has spoken frequently about the need to bring down costs and I could not agree more. One of the most significant, cost-saving steps we can take is to replace the fee-for-service model, which reimburses physicians based on the number of tests or treatments they administer, with a model that rewards quality, not quantity, of care.

We must eliminate frivolous malpractice cases, which not only drive up costs through malpractice insurance, settlements and legal fees, but also force doctors to practice defensive medicine, where they order unnecessary tests and treatments to protect themselves from getting sued. The current system of meritless lawsuits costs too much, does not fairly reward patients who have legitimate claims, and forces doctors to spend too much time in the courtroom instead of the operating room.

We also need to give people meaningful incentives to make healthy lifestyle choices, like eating healthy food, exercising regularly and giving up smoking. Safeway, the national grocery store chain tried this in 2005 when it offered lower health insurance premiums to employees in exchange for adopting healthy behaviors. -- While other companies have seen their health insurance costs go up by 38 percent since then, Safeway’s have remained constant. Health care reform should encourage other companies to establish innovative programs to bring down costs and help employees live healthier lives.

Even with these cost-cutting reforms, some people will not be able to afford the care they need. For these folks who truly need help, we should provide reasonable financial assistance to help them purchase health insurance and get the care they and their children need.

Most members of Congress, and most of the American people, would likely support these common sense proposals. If the president can set aside the polarizing issues and focus on bringing people together, he can help us take significant steps toward our shared goal-- helping more Americans get the quality, affordable health care coverage that they need and deserve.

Wyoming Republican Senator Michael Enzi  is the ranking member of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions