Corker: IN THE NEWS: HEALTH SYSTEM NEEDS FIXING, NOT BREAKING

I've spent two years and countless hours in bipartisan meetings working toward comprehensive health care reforms that would enable all Americans to access affordable private health insurance, and last month I accepted President Obama's invitation to discuss health care reform at the White House. I believe we have a moral obligation to give our honest attention to a crisis that is affecting, to varying extents, every single American.

Unfortunately, I believe the Obama administration's proposal takes us in exactly the wrong direction. It would be, in Gov. Phil Bredesen's words, "the mother of all unfunded mandates," sending billions in costs to overburdened states.

It takes money away from Medicare, an already insolvent program, and leverages it to create a new entitlement program, further jeopardizing a program our seniors depend upon and adding to our country's burgeoning deficit. It asks small businesses to bear the largest brunt of its costs, and perhaps most disturbing, the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office says the proposal would "significantly expand" health care spending.

Clearly, the administration's plan is not the answer.

Congress' first objective should be to do no harm. Second, we should create a budget-neutral mechanism to make health insurance more accessible to millions of Americans. Next, it's critical that we focus on making Medicare more solvent and begin addressing the $40 trillion in unfunded liability that threatens its future. Finally, we should modernize our health care system to increase efficiency, improve quality and lower costs.

Millions of Americans could be covered today, without adding to the federal deficit, by providing advanceable, refundable tax credits, which would give citizens cash in hand to make monthly payments for health insurance. It could be paid for by changing tax code to limit tax benefits for the "Cadillac," or most costly insurance plans, which are currently not taxed. I believe this concept, and the many variations of it that have been discussed, could win strong bipartisan support.

We also could pass reforms requiring insurers to issue policies to all applicants and preventing insurers from pricing policies based on health status, so that even those with pre-existing conditions would be offered competitively priced coverage. These reforms would help every American, not just the newly insured.

Nothing poses a greater risk to our country's financial future than out-of-control entitlement programs such as Medicare. Medicare trustees expect the program to be insolvent in 2017. Unbelievably, the administration's proposal would take cuts made to Medicare and use them to leverage a new program to cover the uninsured - rather than putting the funds toward extending the life of Medicare.

Instead of robbing Peter to pay Paul, which compounds debt on future generations, we should focus on making Medicare more solvent. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Health and Human Services Department should spend ample time implementing pilots and doing the hard work to determine how we can deliver Medicare better than we are today.

Americans should be fearful of 100 senators and 435 members of the House trying to make these highly specialized decisions about how beneficiaries receive care and what services should be available.

Finally, we need to modernize our health care system to create better, more efficient care. Today, instead of a health care "system," we have health care "silos" that keep providers from coordinating effectively.

Standard health information technology platforms would help providers communicate, eliminate duplicative tests and ensure patients receive the best standard of care possible. Standardized insurance claim forms would let providers spend more time treating patients and less time doing paperwork. Requiring providers to publish transparent pricing and quality outcomes would help consumers make informed decisions.

Tort reform is also long overdue. According to the American Medical Association, liability pressure raises health system costs by $84 billion to $151 billion per year.

With modernization reforms, Congress could expand access to those who need it most while strengthening coverage for those already insured - all without adding to the federal deficit.

There is no issue more important or more personal to Americans than health care, and there may be no issue more complex. Reforming our health care system in a way that protects America's unparalleled quality of care and innovation, preserves choice, expands access and lowers health care costs for all Americans will take time and hard work.

I still believe responsible health care reform is possible this fall, and it's my hope that Congress will slow down and get it right.

Bob Corker represents Tennessee in the United States Senate. In addition to his role as senator, Corker has dealt with the issue of health insurance as a businessman, as mayor of Chattanooga and as Tennessee's Commissioner of Finance and Administration. Contact him at (202) 224-3344.