Here's what I just sent Senators Lugar and Bayh:
Dear Senator Lugar/Bayh:
I know that you and your colleagues respected Senator Kennedy’s passion and dedication. I can understand that many of you may identify with a senator who desperately wanted to remain on the battlefield during a crucial fight and was unable to do so. I know you will be urged to honor his memory by ensuring that his removal from the scene does not defeat the cause about which he cared so deeply.
Senator, the issue of American health care’s future is too important to be decided on such grounds. Senator Kennedy’s vision of government-dominated, government-administered health care is wrong for this country. Polls show that most Americans agree with that assessment. Legislators across the country have been confronted with the fear and anger their constituents feel at the possibility of their choices being curtailed and their health care overtaken by a wave of bureaucratic interference.
The challenge of the day is to address the flaws of our generally enviable system without undermining what we are doing so right. There are ideas floating around that meet that test. They include:
--Disconnecting normal health care from insurance. Insurance is for the big bad things that we hope won’t happen – fire, flood, catastrophic illness. It isn’t an appropriate vehicle for dealing with ordinary and predictable expenses. Using insurance for normal health care also prevents people from being intelligent consumers of health care, because they are insulated from its actual costs. We can let people put some of their income, untaxed, into health savings accounts, and spend that money on health care, so health insurance can play the more limited role that’s appropriate to it.
--Disconnecting health insurance from employment. If health insurance has a smaller job to do – covering catastrophic health events – it becomes more affordable. When it’s more affordable, more people can afford it, themselves, rather than getting it as an employment benefit. If we open up insurance to nationwide competition, the costs should go down further.
--Tort reform. We shouldn’t eliminate malpractice litigation, but some limits are necessary. Huge judgments and correspondingly high malpractice insurance premiums translate into higher costs for medical care.
While you honor the colleague you have lost, please maintain your focus on those Americans who remain with us, and who will be deeply affected in the future by the decisions you make today.
Karen A. Wyle