By STEVE ROBERTS

CHARLESTON -- The recent election of a Republican Senator in Massachusetts to fill the seat formerly held by the late Ted Kennedy is a major change and one that will have a direct influence on the deliberations related to national health care reform.

Most would agree that reforms are needed to stem rising health care costs, to improve the affordability of private-sector health insurance plans, to expand coverage for disadvantaged individuals, to end insurance-industry abuses and to enhance cost-controls associated with publicly provided health care coverages, such as Medicaid and Medicare.

Clearly, the American public is uneasy with the health care reform proposals that have been enacted by the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. National polls reveal this, and recent election results are further evidence of their dissatisfaction.

The Obama Administration and members of both parties in the U.S. Congress should use this development to take a step back and re-examine the proposals pending in Washington. Now is the time to get all parties to sit at the table together in an open, transparent environment ... one that leaves partisanship at the door ... and one that does not involve secret, special, vote-buying deals.

There are ways to achieve needed objectives. It is just going to take common-sense and consensus. The West Virginia Chamber, along with national business groups, supports reforming the nation's health system with these proposals:

1) Get costs under control.
* Allow small business pooling (association plans) and purchasing across state lines;

* Provide incentives for the expansion of wellness and prevention programs;

* Greater coordinated care and expansion of medical homes;

* Implement Pay-for-Performance reform;

* Accelerate the adoption of health information technology;

* Enact federal medical liability reform;

* Provide for tax credits for business that provide health insurance to employees; and

* Tax parity: Let individuals/small business deduct the full cost of insurance expenses.

Without spending a trillion dollars or raising taxes, our nation could implement these and many other reforms that would help us start to bend the cost curve.

2) Reform the insurance system and encourage a competitive, private-sector insurance market.

* Carefully modify the use of pre-existing conditions or health status;

* Guarantee that any individual or entity will be issued a policy;

* Limit circumstances under which a policy can be revoked;

* Place reasonable limits on rating differences;

* Fund subsidies for those who cannot afford coverage; and

* Give serious consideration to an individual obligation to obtain coverage – of those without insurance in the U.S., it is estimated that many simply choose to live without coverage. Additionally, many are identified as aliens who have entered the U.S. illegally.

These steps, at a substantially lower cost to taxpayers, could make the nation's health insurance system work for everyone (thereby increasing access for the uninsured), improve our health care delivery system, and make serious progress toward controlling costs.

One key issue that seems left out of the current deliberations is -- how will this nation provide medical care and services to all of the newly insured individuals? The current proposals need to do more to address the need for more primary care physicians (family doctors), particularly in rural areas. Our elected leaders in Washington need to ensure that more family and rural doctors will be educated and available to help meet the needs of the tens of millions of people who might be brought into the system as newly insured.

Our nation is seeking improvements in health care delivery and cost-control, and now is the time to develop solutions that all of us can support.

Roberts is president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

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