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When Navigating the Health Care Desert, Choose a Camel

A Commentary By Senator Mike Enzi, R-WY

We’ve been wandering in the health care desert for years and if we’re to find our way out a good camel sure would come in handy.

In a recent column, Froma Harrop made the case that the majority party in Congress should not waste time getting health care ideas from those on the other side of the aisle or put committees to work on the problem. She urged those in charge to forget the “committee camel” and instead jump on a horse and ride fast. Bad idea. If you do that you’ll end up riding straight into a barbed wire fence or off a cliff. And while you’re out riding what about all the people and solutions you are passing by? Shouldn’t we consider all of the possible consequences of mass change, not only for the current generation, but also future generations?

I’m thankful Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. seem to know the value in legislating the right way. They know what some pundits, leaders in the House and even some in the Administration don’t seem to get. It is precisely because health care reform has so many moving parts that we need to make sure all ideas are heard. If only 51 senators vote for a new health care plan then the American people will not have confidence in it and it probably won’t work. But if we can have about 80 Senators in favor of it, we will have covered enough of the different problems, loopholes, and unintended consequences, that the product that comes out will work and it will have the confidence of the American people. There never has been a bill so complex that personally affects so many people. To get a workable solution it will require the effort of every member of the Senate. We need to get it right because once started we might not be able to go back and fix it.

Harrop holds up Medicare’s prescription drug program as an example of the failure that can happen when you combine Democratic and Republican ideals. Well, let’s take a look at what happened when Congress instituted market-based reforms that injected competition and choice into Medicare prescription drug plans. As a result, seniors are getting the drugs they need and the program has an 85 percent satisfaction rate – and it costs 37 percent less than originally expected. Seniors can choose the plans that meet their needs at affordable prices each year. They can change every year if they didn’t get what they expected or if their prescriptions changed or if they can get a better deal. Try that with any government agency! We could use more “failures” like that.

The first step is agreeing on the problem. We have to agree on that before we can work together to fix it. We are moving forward in the Senate and real progress is being made, but that progress is under constant threat from people like columnist Harrop as well as people on the right who think it’s better to stand on the outside and complain about whatever the majority does.

Harrop is right about one thing, now is different than in the past. People are afraid of not being able to get the health care they need when they need it. I agree with millions of Americans and many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and President Obama -- the time for reforming our health care system is now.

Some people like the health care they have. They should be able to keep it. Others don’t currently have health care or are worried they could lose it. People with pre-existing conditions should be able to buy health insurance. I favor solutions that lower insurance costs for people as well as lower the costs of actual procedures. I believe a patient-focused health care system will provide the highest quality and lowest cost when companies are fighting for your business. When people can vote with their feet, insurance companies will be forced to deliver better quality care. The recent news that Medicare is going broke even faster than people thought makes an even stronger case against increasing the size and scope of government’s role in health care. The last thing a drowning man needs are millions of glasses of water. Further squeezing of the health care market-place will drive up costs and drive down quality. I don’t favor a federal takeover because I don’t want a Washington bureaucrat between you and your doctor. I don’t want you to wait weeks for tests and months for treatment.

In the Senate, we are working across the aisle to come up with solutions. I may not like some of their ideas. They may not like some of my ideas. But we can come up with “ours”, new ways of accomplishing goals we can agree on. That’s the difference between a quick, easy, dangerous ride to nowhere and a surefooted, camel ride out of the desert.

U.S. Senator Mike Enzi is the Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and a member of the Senate Finance Committee and Senate Budget Committee.

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