After months of struggling to get our voices heard in the health care debate, Republicans have reason to hope that our ideas will at last be welcome -- or at least be considered. In contrast to the closed door deliberations that have taken place in the offices of Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Obama recently invited congressional Republicans to take part in a public health care summit on February 25.
Since the debate on health care reform began last year, Republicans have pushed a series of reforms that together would work to lower health care costs and increase access to insurance coverage for Americans. On February 9, the New York Times called our approach a "fairly well-developed set of ideas intended to make health insurance more widely available and affordable, by emphasizing tax incentives and state innovations, with no new federal mandates and only a modest expansion of the federal safety net."
To make health care more affordable, I have joined other Republicans in encouraging transparency and competition among health insurance providers. Americans should have access to useful information about available plans and their actual costs. This could make health insurance more of a buyers' market and empower patients to choose the options that meet their needs.
The best way to raise competition is to provide more choices to consumers. With more insurance plans to choose from, Americans could expect better, more affordable plans presented in the clearest manner that stand out from other options.
In addition, small businesses should be allowed to band together to purchase health insurance for their employees. This option would allow small businesses to leverage their purchasing power in order to buy group health insurance at a less expensive rate. This volume discount structure has allowed large corporations and labor unions to provide quality insurance coverage to workers for years.
Another way to bring about competition and expand access is to give individuals and families the freedom to purchase health care across state lines. Health care consumers should be given the opportunity to shop around for plans that meet their individual needs. Purchasing across state lines should also make health coverage more portable and prevent breaks in health care coverage if an individual has a pre-existing medical condition.
We must also put an end to medical lawsuit abuse. Even President Obama has acknowledged that frivolous lawsuits have led to defensive medicine and increased health care costs for Americans.
Each of these ideas represents a bipartisan step we can take toward improving health care in America. We must also stand firm against provisions that would damage our system. Tax hikes and Medicare cuts would raise health care costs for everyone. Offering benefits to illegal immigrants would be a drain on federal resources and would encourage unlawful behavior. Federal funding for abortions must remain prohibited, as it has for 30 years. Finally, our approach should not add to the growing national debt.
Shelve the Government Takeover
Most Republicans would gladly accept the President's invitation to present our step-by-step reforms and to work toward a bipartisan compromise. We believe many of our proposals could find support on both sides of the aisle. The Democratic majority would be well advised to start fresh by shelving the 2,700-page legislation that would allow the government to take over our nation's health care system.
Unfortunately, White House officials have said that the President "does not intend to restart the health care legislative process from scratch" and he is "adamant that about passing comprehensive reform similar to the bills passed by the House and Senate." I hope the President will reconsider this view. The flawed health care legislation that narrowly passed in the House and Senate is not a realistic starting point for bipartisan consensus.
A recent poll shows that 61 percent of Americans believe the existing health care bill should be scrapped. The same survey indicates that only 28 percent of Americans continue to support the House and Senate bills. I firmly believe the American people are telling Congress to stop the government takeover, start again, and adopt the right reforms step-by-step.