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Time to start over on health care reform

At last count, President Obama has delivered 29 speeches wholly focused on health care and another 92 speeches where it dominated much of what he had to say. Yet most Minnesotans aren't buying his prescription for health care reform.

After a contentious August, a majority of our country remains skeptical about pending cngressional plans to overhaul what amounts to one-sixth of the American economy. Yet Congress continues to push through their partisan "solutions."

I will give the president his due: he's spot on when, in his recent remarks to Congress, he described our health care fears. Americans worry about pre-existing conditions and our inability to obtain private insurance coverage. We stay in jobs we don't like for fear of losing the health care benefits associated with employment. But most of all, we worry that, while we seek change, Wash-;ington will make things worse.

So, what should Congress do? It's time to start over with common-sense, bipartisan solutions to fix what's wrong with American health care.

The Freedom Foundation of Minnesota has released a report that outlines why much of what is being debated in Congress is the wrong medicine for Minnesotans. That report, "Prognosis for National Health Insurance: A Minnesota Perspective," agrees that our American health care system is in dire need of reform.

Our disagreement with most of the plans working their way through Congress is the end results they would produce for taxpayers. A-mong those findings: Minne-sotans would pay higher taxes, see an increase in future federal budget deficits, an increase in state spending, and slower economic growth. Amazingly, all of this occurs while leaving tens of thousands of our friends and neighbors still without health care insurance.

Rather than highlight why this is the wrong prescription for reforming American health care, the report puts forth a set of comprehensive health care reform ideas.

Specifically, we urge Wash-ington to consider our recom-mendations as an important first step in real health reform. Those reform ideas include:

- Individuals should own their own insurance policies. The tax deduction that allows employers to purchase your insurance should instead be given to every individual who can then purchase the correct amount of insurance for their family. Let's face it: a single male in his 20s doesn't need the same amount of coverage as a family with a middle aged mom and dad.

- Congress should better leverage Health Savings Accounts that would empower individuals to monitor their health care costs and create incentives for individuals to spend those dollars on necessary services. The explosion in the popular-ity of Lasik eye surgery and its competitive pricing provides a great illustration of what happens when consumers shop for health care services they desire and pay for those services with their own money.

- We should allow interstate purchasing of insurance. Policies in some states are more affordable because they include fewer "bells and whistles." Minnesota has the dubious distinction of leading the nation in the number of health care "mandates" we require every insurance carrier to provide to every policy holder. Minnesotans should be allowed to decide which benefits they need and what price they are willing to pay for those services.

- Along those same lines, it would be helpful if we could reduce the number of man-dated benefits insurers must cover. Currently, all of the health care legislation work-ing its way through the vario-us congressional committees requires insurance compan-ies to honor all existing state mandates.

- We should reallocate the majority of Medicaid spending into simple vouchers for low-income individuals to pur-chase their own insurance. An income-based sliding scale voucher program would elim-inate much of the massive bureaucracy that is needed to implement today's complex and burdensome Medicaid system. In addition, we be-lieve it would garner consid-erable taxpayer savings.

- It would be helpful if health care reform legislation eliminated unnecessary scope-of-practice laws and allowed non-physician health care professionals to practice to the extent of their education and training. Minnesota has led the nation in this area with health care providers such as Minute Clinic, who provide transparent pricing, consumer convenience as well as low prices for routine health care matters.

- We must reform tort liability laws. Defensive medicine needlessly drives up medical costs and creates an adversarial relationship between doctors and patients.

Reforming health care won't be easy. But if Congress and the president adopt the common-sense solutions we've outlined in our report, they can make important changes that will ensure that every American, including our children and grandchildren, will have access to affordable and quality healthcare. That's a legacy worth fighting for.

Annette Meeks is founder and CEO of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, an independent, non-profit, education and research group.