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Time to Fix America's Broken Health Care System

Instead of interfering in private innovation, Washington needs to let new ideas thrive.

June 6, 2012

It is time to get serious about improving the quality of our country's health care
system and lowering its cost for hardworking American families. We must rescue
the system from its current path towards cost-driven and ineffective patient
care. Imagine how confusing and troublesome it would be to have to get
appointments with up to 14 different doctors to receive adequate treatment. Yet
unfortunately, this experience is all too common for many Americans. Reforms
can significantly improve health care quality and lower health care costs in
the long run--but only if we reform both the way we deliver and pay for medical

Washington can take important steps now to fix one of the biggest problems in
our health care system: Medicare's broken fee-for-service structure. This
method of payment encourages providers to see as many patients and prescribe as
many treatments as possible. The program does nothing to reward providers who
keep patients healthy. These misaligned incentives drive up costs and hurt
patient care. The new health care law unfortunately did nothing to address
these problems.

The most important thing that Washington needs to understand is
that there is no single solution for every family or every
patient. Unfortunately, when we mandate funds for a specific purpose like
health insurance, many people are confronted with the reality of fewer choices
and higher costs.

There are a number of steps that can be taken to address this growing problem.
Value-based insurance would help realign the incentive structures for
delivering health care services by reducing copays for high-value services and
increasing copays for low-value or excessive services. Shifting the health care
delivery system from one that pays and delivers services based on volume to one
that pays and delivers services based on value is an idea that unites both
Republicans and Democrats. Consumer-directed health plans provide another
avenue for linking financial and delivery system incentives, and have the
potential to reduce health care spending by $57 billion per year. Bundled
payments will support more efficient and integrated care. All of these options
have already been utilized by a number of private sector firms with great

Our nation has made great strides in improving the quality of life for all
Americans, and every major legislative initiative that has helped transform our
country was forged in the spirit of compromise and cooperation. These qualities
are essential to the success and longevity of crucial programs such as Medicare
and Medicaid. But when it comes to health care decisions being made in
Washington lately, the only thing the government is doing well is increasing
partisanship and legislative gridlock.

We still need health care reform, but it has to be done the right way. The
federal government should be willing to support viable reforms where it is
needed, but also refrain from handcuffing innovative private sector designs
with excessive regulations or narrow political interests. Providing
Americans with access to high quality, affordable health care is something I am
confident both Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree upon.

Michael Enzi is the senior U.S. senator from Wyoming, and the Ranking Member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee

This article was published on on June 4, 2012.