What to try before HMObama

"First-time parents." There is an apparent law of nature that requires anyone uttering those words to roll his eyes, or at the very least crack a knowing smile. Anyone can recognize the overly cautious, slightly harried manner of new parents fretting over a 10-pound child. I know: I've gotten plenty of those looks since my son was born in January.

There is another anxiousness for first-time parents, one that has nothing to do with whether Baby needs to see a doctor over a case of the hiccups. The first-time parent, 30 years old in my case, is uniquely positioned: understanding ever more fully the shape of the world he is inheriting, while holding in his arms an inheritor of the world he will help to shape.

It gives one pause.

Pauses, however, are in short supply today, and not just for us first-time parents. The world —- and more specifically, our country —- is being changed by our leaders more rapidly than ever.

Those of us below a certain age are supposed to be accustomed to rapid change, having spent the bulk of our lives adapting to 24-hour news channels, cellphones, the Web, e-mail, instant messages, text messages, instant punditry on blogs, the Web on cellphones, Facebook, Twitter and whatever has come out while I've been fretting over that baby of mine.

But there is a difference between those kinds of changes and the Change coming from Washington these days. Two differences, really.

The first is that this Change is universal. Don't want a cellphone? Don't buy one. Prefer your old turntable? No law requires you to have an iPod. Don't want to "tweet," or to "follow" those who do? There are plenty of other ways to find out what Newt Gingrich is thinking.

But —- to take just one example of Change —- what if you like the health insurance you have now?

Oh, we're told that those who like their current coverage won't have to change a thing. Except that Congress is now openly talking about slashing the tax subsidy that your employer gets in return for subsidizing your health insurance. That just might affect your employer's decision to keep subsidizing your insurance.

To be fair, I don't want my son to inherit the exact same health care system that we have now. But I recognize the limits of our wisdom and foresight, so I also don't want him to be handcuffed by the changes we make. That's why the more frightening aspect of Change is its irreversibility.

One thing we know about entitlements is that, once created, they never go away. There historically hasn't been the political will even to modify them meaningfully —- except to expand them. That goes for presidents and Congresses of both parties, over multiple generations.

But before chaining our children to Change, we could make any number of changes that would help shrink our national health care bill.

U.S. Rep. Tom Price, a physician from Roswell and head of the conservative caucus in the House, suggests some sensible alternatives to an HMObama. They include better use of information technology in health care, with the federal government setting a common platform, and wider availability to patients of data about the quality and efficacy of various treatment options, without letting bureaucrats decide which treatments are allowed.

We might also try tort reform to rein in medical malpractice lawsuits and eliminate unnecessary procedures that doctors order just to reduce their legal liability. Interstate competition among insurance companies would help, and we need to give patients ownership of their own health plans, so that insurance companies "respond to individuals instead of HR departments," Price says.

Now let's stipulate that Republicans (though not necessarily Price himself) haven't credibly explained why they didn't enact such reforms back when they held the levers of power in Washington. There certainly was no shortage of conservative voices calling for such changes.

But that's no excuse for tying the hands of the generation that's just arrived, and those still on the way. That goes for other policy areas as well, but those will have to wait. Baby's crying again.

Kyle Wing?eld, an Opinion Columnist, appears on Thursdays. Reach him at kwing?eld@ajc.com.