Healthcare | A bipartisan health plan has something for everyone, but is that enough to win support?

Issue: "On the road again," May 9, 2009

Insuring more Americans while reducing the federal deficit? Yes we can, say two senators from separate parties who hope their health-care ideas gain attention when Congress begins work this summer on overhauling health care.

That the current system is too costly and leaves too many Americans uninsured are about the only things entrenched health-care stakeholders agree on. That is why the proposal by Sens. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and Robert Bennett, a Utah Republican, stands out: Already their Healthy Americans Act has garnered an unusual bipartisan mix with 12 additional Senate supporters-five Republicans and six Democrats (plus Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman).

While President Barack Obama's proposal to create a government--provided plan threatens to drive private heath insurance out of business, Wyden and Bennett have a more outside-the-box approach: They propose giving individuals medical plan choices-inviting workers to take over the health-care reins that have been held in corporate hands since the Great Depression.

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This recasting of the health-care mindset would provide universal coverage through private companies that people choose themselves and that they can then take with them from job to job.

"Health care can be fixed without massive new tax increases or boatloads of added government spending," says Wyden.

The plan tries to give both political parties something to cheer about-a feature that could be its undoing: Coverage would be required with the government paying the premiums of poorer families (something liberals favor) through taxes on employers (something small businesses may oppose). But all plans would be privately run and subject to market competition (something that pleases conservatives) with employers having to return to employees the cash that would have been spent on the business health plan.

Increased clout for cost-conscious individuals in the health-care marketplace, argues Joseph Minarik with the Committee for Economic Development, would provide the leverage needed to introduce more competition into the system, driving down costs while improving quality.

An added bonus touted by its supporters: A Lewin Group study says that the act would save already insured families $300 a year, trim nearly $1.5 trillion in health-care spending over the next decade, and actually reduce the federal deficit by $343.1 billion.

But some conservative critics, while saying the act's focus on an individual-based system over an employer-based system is a bold step in the right direction, argue that serious changes are needed: The Heritage Foundation's Nina Owcharenko maintains that the bill provides the government with regulatory powers that could control the supply of health-insurance products and choke market forces. She adds that the current bill also poses problematic tax inequities for employers and contains worrisome federal mandates-including one that health insurers must cover abortions.

The crowded field of health-care proposals is sure to create legislative traffic jams in coming months. But, while this particular bill is a work in progress, asking Americans to take responsibility for their own health-care plans should be a bipartisan no-brainer.

No bar to service

By Edward Lee Pitts

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Kathleen Sebelius' nomination to lead the Health and Human Services Department headed to the full Senate for confirmation after the Kansas governor won approval of the Senate Finance Committee on April 21 in a 15-8 vote. Sebelius came under fire in April for misstating how much money she received from a controversial provider of late-term abortions. In her response to committee questions, Sebelius originally wrote that she received $12,450 from George Tiller between 1994 and 2001. An Associated Press review, however, revealed that the Kansas abortionist donated at least $23,000 more to Sebelius' political action committee from 2000 to 2002.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the revelation that Sebelius received almost three times more money from Tiller than she originally revealed led him to oppose her nomination. Only two of 10 Republicans on the Finance Committee voted for Sebelius: Sen. Pat Roberts from Sebelius' home state and Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine.

Sebelius is the last nominee needed to complete a full Cabinet for the Obama administration.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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