Fresh out of a roundtable hearing in the Senate Finance Committee this morning on models for financing health care reform, Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming said Congress will need to take a bipartisan approach as it prepares to markup and debate major health care reform legislation. “And I don’t mean bipartisan like on the economic stimulus bill,” Enzi quipped during his speech at the Heritage Foundation today.
While some components of the in the current health care debate have become nonnegotiable for both sides of the aisle — such as the creation of a public health insurance option that would compete in the private insurance market — Enzi said there is plenty of opportunities for Republicans and Democrats to find a compromise in a final health care reform bill.
“To get a workable solution, it will require the effort of every member of the Senate,” said Enzi, a ranking member of the a ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, which also has a strong role in health care legislation. “If we can’t come up with a plan that can garner the support of at least 75 or 80 senators, this institution will not have the confidence of the American people and the plan will fail.”
To help more Americans gain access to health coverage or keep the coverage they have, Enzi said several issues must be addressed in the Senate’s health care debate:
- Health care reform must expand health insurance coverage by making it affordable for all Americans to purchase, especially those with pre-existing conditions.
- Any reform bill would use private plans to deliver the coverage.
- Reform must foster an atmosphere of competition by demanding that insurers compete on price and value, rather than providing the ability to pick lower-cost, low-risk patients.
- A bipartisan bill would protect consumers by providing them with better information about quality, price and the nature of coverage within competing health plans.
- There would be an appropriate level of government oversight in the marketplace to protect patients from abuse that occurs at times in today’s market.
- The bill would provide advance subsidies to low-income American to help them purchase private health insurance.
The final requisite is that any health care reform must be fully paid for, Enzi charged. “It is my belief that our nation has maxed out its credit card,” he said, noting the Medicare and Social Security are projected to go bankrupt sooner than anticipated a year ago.
“For reform to go anywhere, it is imperative that this step be paid in full,” he said. So far, the Obama administration and congressional members have floated several ways to raise the necessary $634 billion downpayment on health care reform. This has included reducing tax deductions for charitable giving, changing the tax exclusions for employer-based health care coverage, enacting an onerous cap-and-tax on American’s energy use and even taxing sugary soft drinks.
Enzi said its “troublesome” that Congress is trying to eliminate the possibility of reforming the tax exclusion on employer-based benefits. “If we are serious about reforming health care, we will revisit this policy that essentially fell into place during a time of wage controls in America as a way for employers to entice workers without raising wages.”
Congress is expected to introduce and begin debating health care reform legislation within the next few weeks.