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Fresh thinking needed in debate
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With President Obama and the Democratic Congress pushing to remake the U.S. health care system this fall, thousands of citizens packed town hall meetings across Georgia and the nation last month to voice concerns about the current approach.

It appears those concerns have fallen on deaf ears. Disappointingly, the President had little new to say in his address to Congress last Wednesday night. And an alternative proposal that will debut in the Senate this month would put the nation on the same path as the one already passed by four Congressional committees controlled by Democrats.

Many Georgians clearly aren’t happy about the direction of the debate, and rightly so. Maybe it’s because they don’t want their private health insurance replaced with government-run coverage that would give them less control over their care. Or maybe they know the legislation at the center of this debate simply isn’t the miracle cure that the President and some Congressional Democrats are promising.

Supporters of both bills on the table say they want to reduce health care costs while improving quality and covering the uninsured. Good; so do we.

The problem is, neither bill would give Americans better health care. Nor would they keep costs in line. Contrary to the President’s claims, the Congressional Budget Office found the current proposals would add nearly a trillion dollars or more to the federal deficit. The CBO also determined that a “one size fits all” government health plan won’t actually cover all the uninsured. The alternative Senate proposal for government-funded, government-regulated co-ops would fare much the same.

It’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Instead of importing the failed ideas of nations like Canada (which now pays U.S. hospitals to take patients who can’t get treatment back home) and states like Massachusetts (which now has the most expensive insurance premiums in the country), let’s try a different approach:
Instead of regulating private coverage out of existence, get rid of arcane rules that keep insurers from offering cost-effective, competitive health plans with benefits people actually want.

Instead of imposing new taxes, create real options for people to obtain insurance outside the workplace by giving them the same tax deduction that employers enjoy today.

Instead of creating a new government-run plan, audit existing plans like Medicare and Medicaid — removing the fraud on their books could save billions. Also, give people enrolled in those plans the option of using the money Uncle Sam already spends on their coverage to purchase private insurance instead.

Speaking of choice, instead of a government rationing board, set up a Web site where people can see the true costs of their care at different providers and decide for themselves which services to use. Competition will increase, and costs will go down.

Finally, instead of simply treating illnesses and conditions as they arise, reward folks for healthy living — and reward providers who help them get there.

These nonpartisan, free-market solutions are the surest way to expand access to affordable, quality coverage. Many have been successful in Georgia and other states.

Their track record stands in contrast to programs that have failed across the country, from Maine to Oregon to Tennessee — programs that are incredibly similar to the legislation in Congress.

That’s why the Georgia Chamber of Commerce recently joined with other state chambers around the nation to create Employers for Quality Health Care, an unprecedented coalition dedicated to passing responsible, meaningful reform.

On behalf of Georgia’s thousands of employers and millions of workers, we urge our Congressmen to do the same.

George M. Israel III, a former mayor of Macon, is president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.