A bipartisan prescription for national health care reform

As President Barack Obama insisted in his State of the Union Wednesday night, we cannot walk away from health reform now. It is too soon to write an obituary on much-needed changes on how we treat patients and pay for that care. People’s lives are at stake.

But we should not confuse the president’s message as permission for more political maneuvering to adopt a Senate plan that the public has rejected in the polls and recently at the Massachusetts ballot box.

Instead we need a rational, bipartisan approach to health reform that is truly person-centered. It’s time to come together to craft a plan that puts patients first rather than political and special interests. Only then can we make health care more affordable, more available and more accessible.

Like a surgeon whose next delicate move can save a patient’s life, we have a chance to salvage health reform if we do it with precision. After the blunders of the efforts of 1994 and 2009, we cannot afford to make another mistake or our system is doomed.

It’s time to create a prescription that the American people will actually buy. After all, Americans want a remedy for their health and their families’ future that will actually:

● Make health care more affordable. Eliminating waste must be a hallmark of an effort to reduce cost while emphasizing prevention can avoid the need for expensive interventions.

● Make health care more available by ensuring each American has access to quality, skilled professionals and health care facilities in communities where they live.

● Make health care more appropriate so the right intervention is delivered for the right reason and for the right outcome. Our 21st-century health care should fulfill the promise of personalized medicine that assures care will be rational and not rationed and that quality and not costs drive decisions.

Transforming health care is a complex operation that cannot be accomplished with a sledge hammer of a 2,000-page bill but requires a transparent, deliberate process of well-crafted steps. A bipartisan approach could also include principles our Center for Health Transformation has promoted and the public supports including:

● Provide insurance security by making health insurance portable and less expensive by allowing Americans to shop for it across state lines and to price policies on the Internet. Make the tax code friendly so Americans can deduct their premiums just as businesses do.

● Move communities to an electronic health system and electronic patient records, saving lives. Doctors and hospitals should be able to interface their offices with patients’ medical records on an electronic basis. Studies show that not only is paper inefficient, it can kill.

● Eliminate waste and fraud in Medicare and Medicaid. Stop paying the crooks so there are more dollars in the system for the elderly, the disabled and the poor. The public deserves assurance that their tax dollars are going to legitimate programs that provide quality.

● Enact civil justice reform so physicians and hospitals are only sued for just cause, not to look for an easy payout. All of us pay as much as 30 percent more for health care due to “defensive medicine” because doctors and hospitals require patients to undergo more tests than necessary to keep from getting sued.

We invite a Congress and the president with a new set of eyes on health care to truly engage in bipartisan talks. Genuine transformation requires a sincere commitment to change, listening to the American people and putting patients first.

Newt Gingrich is the founder of the Center for Health Transformation. Dr. Andrew Von Eschenbach is former commissioner of the FDA and senior strategist at the center.

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