Outside editorial: Getting reform right

Posted: Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Sometimes it's a good sign when key stakeholders and opposing political factions are grumbling about a sweeping reform moving through Congress.

By that measure, the prospects looked brighter this week for the health-care overhaul President Obama has made a top priority.

As the House wrapped up committee work on Byzantine legislation designed to tame runaway health-care inflation and provide coverage to nearly all of the 50 million uninsured, liberal Democrats stepped up to join Republicans in criticizing various compromises made to reach this point.

Would the reduced subsidies to help people purchase insurance still put coverage out of reach?

Will the requirement that a new government-run insurance plan negotiate rates with doctors and hospitals - rather than more frugal Medicare fees - make it less effective as a safety net and as a competitor to private insurers?

Shouldn't small businesses do more to insure workers, or are they doing too much?

Far from sounding reform's death knell, though, these complaints were the best indication the House is striking the right balance on cost and access to care.

In a climate of compromise, liberal Democrats also found it possible to angle for provisions previously not on the table - such as sensible limits on insurance increases, and granting Medicare the long-needed ability to use its clout to bargain over drug prices.

Merely reaching this point in the House - while the Senate moves more slowly - is a big step forward. It follows a split and reconciliation with conservative Blue Dog Democrats who fought for greater cost restraint, helping to put the House plan on a stronger footing.

The progress is all the more extraordinary given the poisonous climate of scare tactics seen in recent weeks. To suggest, as one GOP talking point goes, that more Americans could die under health-care reform would be laughable - were it not such a cruel and desperate play on people's fears.

The best antidote to such scare tactics would be for Congress to continue to push ahead on getting the details of health reform right.

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