Pass the AlexanderMurray health fix
Bipartisan deal would improve lots of lives
It’s hard to imagine anything less political than Americans’ everyday interactions with our health care system. Illness and accidents don’t distinguish between Democrat and Republican. Neither do rising premiums, pre-existing conditions, or the fear that our loved ones might find themselves without insurance. Like it or not, our basic need for health care unites us.
Which makes it all the more ironic — and disheartening — that in Washington no issue has proven more divisive. One of us served in the Clinton White House, the other as a House Republican campaign chairman. We’re no strangers to fierce argument over health care reform. Yet in the first 10 months of the Trump administration, things have gone from bad to worse.
But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to improve the system we have. On the contrary, there are straightforward, bipartisan actions Congress could take that would further lower the uninsured rate and curb rising costs without adding to the deficit.
These steps wouldn’t be a big “win” for either party. They would, however, make an enormous difference in Americans’ lives. Especially after last week’s elections, when Virginia and Maine voters sent clear messages about the importance of health care, Congress should seize the moment.
First, Congress should consider a Senate bill proposed by Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington state. They would restore subsidies, expand outreach efforts for the health insurance marketplaces, and give states more flexibility while continuing to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions. “In my view, this agreement avoids chaos,” Alexander said. “And I don’t know a Democrat or a Republican who benefits from chaos.”
He’s right, of course. And by signing it into law, President Trump would burnish his deal-making credentials, secure an impressive year-one victory that boosts his poll numbers and put his own stamp on the American health care system.
Second, Congress should consider additional bipartisan steps to improve the health care system. One such plan was recently proposed by the House Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 43 Democrats and Republicans committed to working together even in this polarized political age. Their ideas — such as a “stability fund” to help states care for high-cost patients, or defining full time work as 40 hours per week instead of 30 — are not designed to rally either party’s base. Not every member of the caucus agrees with every element of the plan. But that is the nature of compromise. Congress should embrace these and other good-faith efforts.
Finally, going forward, Congress must return to regular order — holding hearings, considering amendments, allowing debate and making a genuine effort to secure the votes of legislators from both parties. Crafting bills this way is time-consuming, tedious and often frustrating. Yet the results are better, and more lasting, than anything negotiated behind closed doors.
No less important, a transparent, fair legislative process is needed if we are to preserve Americans’ faith in our democracy. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said before rejecting a health care repeal attempt last summer: “We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle.” It’s a message we all should take to heart.
Health care policy will never be entirely immune from politics. Yet hopefully we can agree it’s a good thing when the percentage of Americans without insurance falls rather than rises. Hopefully, we can agree that the Affordable Care Act needs improvement. By passing Alexander-Murray, embracing compromise throughout the House and Senate and returning to regular order, Congress can make the system we have better and make Americans healthier.
That sounds like a win to us.