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Op-Ed: Jobs Must Be An Integral Part Of Healthcare Reform


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Unfortunately, despite the newfound rhetoric about job creation from the House and Senate leadership, job creation is not a top priority. But it can be. On healthcare, for example, it is possible to lower its cost, expand accessibility, lower the federal deficit and create jobs. I voted for reform that would have expanded accessibility by:

• Establishing universal access programs to guarantee access to affordable healthcare for those with pre-existing conditions while lowering costs for all Americans.

• Preventing insurers from canceling a policy unless a person commits fraud or conceals material facts about their health.

• Giving small businesses the power to pool together and offer healthcare at lower prices, just as corporations do.

• Encouraging innovation by providing incentives to states that reduce premiums and the number of uninsured.

• Allowing Americans living in one state to purchase insurance in another.

Expanding accessibility would lower healthcare premiums for families and small businesses. Cost would also be lowered by ending junk lawsuits that promote defensive medicine by enacting medical liability reforms modeled after successful laws in California and Texas.

The reform I voted for would have cut the deficit by $68 billion over the next 10 years, according to a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimate.

But, most importantly, the reform I voted for would not have imposed new taxes and fines on individuals and small businesses that would eradicate millions of more jobs. In fact, one estimate, based on a model developed by Christina Romer, chairwoman of President Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisors, shows House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's healthcare bill could cost the economy up to another 5 million jobs.

We need to tie healthcare reform to job creation. Sixty percent of uninsured Americans work for small businesses. But because of high costs, small businesses cannot afford to provide health insurance to their employees. Pelosi, under her government takeover of healthcare, wants to tax and fine small businesses for their inability to provide affordable insurance. I prefer to allow small businesses to join association health plans or HealthMarts. By joining them, the 48 million who work for a small business would be able to obtain health insurance at premiums 13 percent lower than they could on the open market, according to the CBO.

Association plans would be sponsored by trade, industry or professional associations and would be open to their members. HealthMarts, in contrast, would be nonprofit, geographically based organizations that would offer health insurance to all small businesses in their service area. They differ from cooperatives in that they would be exempt from some state mandates and could avoid the full effect of state regulation, allowing them to offer healthcare plans that fit members' needs.

The CBO points out the lack of regulation would not be detrimental: "Firms take into account the preferences of their employees in designing their benefit packages and will not necessarily sponsor policies that omit all mandated benefits. One study of self-insured employers found that many of those firms offered mandated benefits despite their exemption from state regulations."

Reforming medical malpractice laws also would lower health-insurance costs. In an Oct. 9 letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch, the CBO noted: "Tort reform could affect costs for healthcare directly, by lowering premiums for medical liability insurance, and indirectly, by reducing the use of diagnostic tests and other healthcare services when providers recommend those services principally to reduce their potential exposure to lawsuits."

Tort-reform proposals that include capping noneconomic damages would reduce medical liability insurance premiums by 10 percent and reduce healthcare spending by about $110 billion over 10 years, including a reduction in mandatory spending of $41 billion over 10 years for Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program and the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, the CBO stated.

The reforms would increase federal payroll tax revenues by $13 billion and reduce federal budget deficits by $54 billion over the next 10 years.

Another option for increasing accessibility to health insurance is to increase competition by allowing insurance companies to sell policies across state lines. One study, by University of Minnesota health economists Stephen Parente and Roger Feldman, found that opening competition across state lines would open insurance to 12 million previously uninsured Americans. All these reforms, by lowering costs on employees and employers, would create jobs.

The healthcare system needs to be reformed but it can be done in such a way that it expands accessibility, lowers costs, decreases the deficit and creates jobs. A government takeover of healthcare that increases costs, the deficit and unemployment makes no sense when unemployment is at a 26-year high.

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