Both sides need to respect debate on health care reform

The Record
September 4, 2009

It is a shame that the current health care debate hardly resembles a debate — rather, it has devolved into a screaming match among the fiercest partisans on both sides.

For more than 60 years, presidents from both parties have tried to pass meaningful health care reform. There is no doubt that the sector needs reform now more than ever, but that does not mean we should be hastily or superficially negotiating a bill that carries a price tag of $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years and that could fundamentally alter more than 15 percent of our entire national economy.

I am glad that the Senate ensured that a bill was not rushed through before the August recess. With President Obama relenting on that self-imposed deadline, I am hopeful that we can have a thorough examination of this vital issue.

To begin, any solution must be one built on compromise. I was discouraged to read that White House aides have said that quickly passing the bill on a strictly partisan basis was more important than taking the time to build a bipartisan solution. We cannot afford to have such a crucial subject decided by only slightly more than half of our elected leaders.

This admonishment to cooperate goes both ways, and speaks to the real challenge of this issue. We need to find a way to have a credible and reasonable debate in this country. We must engage the facts and attempt to see through the scare tactics that are being used to influence the discussion.

Both sides are guilty on this score. It is time to end the false allegations about death panels, as well as charges that every critic is a plant by Republican headquarters or conservative talk show hosts, or that criticism is un-American. Real solutions to a seemingly intractable problem are not going to come through violent town hall meetings or shouting pundits.

Peaceful presentation

We have to demonstrate that we can live up to the ideals of our democracy and have a peaceful and civilized presentation of our views to our representatives who will ultimately decide these complex matters.

In 2007, Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold and Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham introduced the state-based Health Care Reform Act, which would encourage states to decide individually how to achieve insurance coverage. These senators recognize that we are a republic, and that a one-size-fits-all solution is unworkable.

The legislation would have established five-year pilot programs in which states could have used health savings accounts, single-payer systems, expansion of current programs or new ideas in their efforts to cover the uninsured. While not a perfect solution, it was legislation worthy of debate.

Finally, we would be wise to view this issue holistically, rather than in silos. The health insurance industry absolutely needs reform, but we need to simultaneously address tort reform and the trial lawyers who bear a fair share of responsibility for rising health care costs. We need more transparency with hospitals and doctors and the ability to digitize medical records.

We would also be well served by having more educated consumers who recognize the importance of their lifestyle choices on their individual health and the ultimate cost to the system.

It is also important that we step back and recognize what is good about our health care system and fight to preserve those features. While competition and potential for profit have left some citizens without insurance, they are two of the aspects that drive innovation and make America’s system the envy of much of the world.

Foreign dignitaries treated here

When Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi needed cancer treatment, he did not go to an Italian hospital — despite the country’s universal health care program. He went to a Cleveland clinic. Canadians who can afford it come to the United States for treatment, including former government minister Belinda Stronach, who was diagnosed with breast cancer and treated in the United States. We would do well to remember that our system has strengths even as we consider its shortfalls.

Unfortunately, as I have frequently noted, moderates are rarely the most engaged on any given issue — by definition and by extension of their position — and this issue is no exception.

But it is incumbent upon all of us to make sure that our representatives do not just hear from extreme partisans and interest groups on this matter.

I hope New Jersey residents will take the time to contact their representatives in Washington to voice their views in a respectful and helpful manner.