2009-09-11 / Columnists

It's My Turn

Consensus Still Possible With Healthcare Reform
By Douglas E. Schoen

Douglas E. Schoen was a campaign consultant for more than 30 years and is the author of "Declaring Independence: The Beginning of the End of the Two-Party System."

Despite the skepticism of many Democrats, genuine bipartisanship on healthcare reform is not only still possible, but is probably the only way to get major reform passed.

Support for reform is certainly dwindling. A recent NBC poll found that just 41 percent of Americans support the president's healthcare proposals, while 42 percent think they're a bad idea. Only 24 percent believe their care would improve under Obama's plan; 40 percent think it would get worse. Americans also believe - correctly - that negotiations between the two parties have become acrimonious. A recent Pew poll found that 63 percent of Americans think that the president and Republicans aren't working together, up from 50 percent two months ago. More respondents pin the blame for the breakdown on the GOP than on Obama. But the slice that thinks the president bears some responsibility is now at 17 percent, up from 7 percent in February.

There's still widespread support for reform in principle, though. Sixty percent of respondents think the healthcare system needs "major reform" or a "complete overhaul." So the American public can be won back. But only if the Democrats embrace bipartisanship.

The administration recently took a step in that direction when it signaled a willingness to support a national insurance co-op system over a public option. In another move sure to shoreup GOP support, the president has reportedly agreed to oppose repealing the "non-interference" clause in the Medicare drug benefit.

Bold acts of bipartisanship have taken place outside of the White House, too. Senator Ron Wyden, DOre., has been gaining steam in his campaign for a "third way" reform bill that aims to shift people off of employer based insurance. And despite pressure to call off bipartisan talks, the Democratic members of the influential "Gang of Six" are engaging with their Republican colleagues. Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus has promised that they "remain committed" to achieving a bipartisan bill.

There are plenty of innovative policies based on the president's core principles that will effect change and garner support from both parties. A fullscale overhaul might not be politically possible at this time.

Policymakers should re-visit plans to institute electronic medical record keeping and make insurance more portable. Tort reform also hasn't received enough attention. And preventative care programs tend to be universally popular and have a track record of bringing down long-term costs. Healthcare reformers should redevote themselves to reaching across the aisle.

Abandoning bipartisanship now would further divide the country, jeopardizing future legislative efforts and making it that much harder for the government to address the huge challenges we're facing.

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