Pass the Alexan­derMur­ray health fix

Bipartisan deal would im­prove lots of lives

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS OPINION - Mack McLarty and Tom Davis Mack McLarty, vice chair­man of No La­bels, was Bill Clin­ton’s White House chief of staff. For­mer Vir­ginia Rep. Tom Davis, co-founder of No La­bels, is a for­mer chair­man of the Na­tional Repub­li­can Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee.

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.

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