The nation is focused on health care -- again -- as President Obama convenes his highly-touted and supposedly bipartisan summit.
Will it present a promising path to covering the approximately 43 million Americans (the exact number depends on who's counting, and who's counted) without health insurance? Or will it amount to nothing more than an elaborate photo-op, serving only as a vehicle to advance the creation of a government take-over of our health-care system?
For the past year, Congress has been considering ways to lower costs, expand insurance coverage and increase quality in the health-care system. The reality is that for millions of Americans, costly medical attention could take a serious toll into their pocketbooks. This situation, coupled with a system prone to fraud and abuse, has rightfully raised these important issues to the forefront.
Unfortunately, Congress and the president incorrectly diagnosed the problem, pushing forward a drastic overhaul of the current health-care system that would put the government squarely behind the wheel. Rather than considering other ways of helping Americans get access to affordable coverage, Congress sought to appease the demands of the Left.
The more the American people learned about the details of Congress' health care plans, the less they liked them. Support for overhauling the current system went down a precipitous slide, according to a number of public opinion polls conducted throughout 2009. Despite the opposition, Congress and the president pressed forward, making the audacious claim that the American people would support the health care plan once it was signed into law.
It was clear that Congress was more interested in meeting arbitrary political deadlines than worrying about the details of reforming one-sixth of our economy.
Fortunately, the voices of the American people would not be silenced. Everywhere they went, constituents expressed their opposition to a costly government-run health insurance system that would raise taxes and put the country even more in the red. Worse, politicians made innumerable backroom deals to buy votes to advance their agenda.
Voter dissatisfaction was recently on display when Massachusetts elected Scott Brown, who campaigned against the details of the health care plan, to the U.S. Senate to replace the late liberal lion Ted Kennedy.
Still, like a chronic disorder, health care is once again at center stage. And despite what some contend, conservatives want to reform the current system and have provided a number of credible ideas. Among them:
- Ability to buy across state lines. We should be able to buy health insurance as we buy life or auto insurance. This would increase competition and consumer choice.
- Portability. We should be able to take our health care plan from one job to the next. Health care shouldn't be tied to an employer.
- Reform Tax Code. Under the current system, individuals are penalized by higher taxes if they purchase health insurance in the private market. That's a mistake.
These are just a handful of the ideas that Congress and the president should consider to achieve a consensus. Above all, if any lessons are to be learned from the failure in coming to an agreement on this thorny issue, it's that the American people are leery of an onerous and intrusive government administering health care.
After months of stalled negotiations, Congress needs to seriously consider other ways of providing health care insurance without the government calling all the shots. Congress needs to put aside arrogance in the form of heavy-handed politics and incorporate bi-partisan ideas to garner broad support that can make the health care summit into more than just political stagecraft. The American people expect nothing less.
Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in Diario de La Prensa