An Independent Bridge across the Partisan Divide: Healthcare

The topic of healthcare divides our nation, usually along strict partisan lines. Healthcare reform is so charged that legislators even use it to prove their loyalty to party ideology. The polarized nature of the topic virtually ensures that any debate on healthcare ends in a standoff between the two opposing sides. In 2018, for the first time in several election cycles, we have the potential for hope.

Bridging the partisan divide on healthcare will take a mediator from outside the two major parties, one who can propose innovative solutions to the debate’s more intransigent conundrums. This mediator is a small group of independent senators and governors. We have, for the first time, the possibility for several independent senators to hold office simultaneously. The balance of power in the senate is so precarious that just a few independents can truly change its dynamics.

To understand how independents can help bridge the divide on healthcare reform, we must understand where the two major parties stand on the debate. The general consensus of the Democratic party is that our country would be best served by a single-payer universal healthcare system managed by the government. A government-controlled system would be expensive and the burden for choosing how to allocate the available dollars would rest with the government. Heavily regulated healthcare systems often struggle to retain qualified providers since the systems limit providers’ ability to choose which treatments their patients receive and also limit the reimbursement providers receive for their services. By limiting provider-autonomy, single payer systems also limit a fair degree of provider-generated innovation.

The general consensus of the Republican party is that citizens would be best served by a healthcare system with as little government involvement as possible and dominated by free market competition between insurers. In addition to a free market approach to healthcare, Republicans generally advocate for a smaller safety net and for fewer government regulations of the healthcare insurance industry. The Republican insurer-controlled system tends to leave high-risk patients unable to obtain coverage since those patients are more expensive to insure. An insurer-controlled system also tends to reduce or eliminate coverage for care such as some of the ten “Essential Health Benefits” mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

Both major parties often rely on support and funding from groups closely tied to specific policy positions who, in fact, may rely on maintaining these policy positions for financial success of their own organizations. For example, it is highly unlikely that hospitals as a group will acquiesce to across the board cuts to hospital reimbursement and lobbyists for hospital organizations will strongly oppose any consideration of lower reimbursements. Political parties tend to shy away from antagonizing the special interest groups that form the base of their constituents for fear of losing the political and financial support that the special interest groups provide.

A potential advantage to an independent approach is that independents are less likely to be beholden to such special interest groups, thus freeing up independents to take a fresh look at problem solving. They might look at the two parties’ positions, for example, and choose to use the centrist emphasis on free markets as a foundation for a healthcare system while supplementing the free market approach with a strong government-controlled safety net. Independents may propose that the general healthcare market be structured on an insurer-controlled model. To cover patients deemed too high risk by private insurers, independents may propose that, rather than relegate high risk patients to either no insurance or Social Security Disability, high risk patients get a middle option to receive Medicare on the condition that they continue to work and pay a reasonable monthly premium. To ensure that sufficient variety of private insurance options are available for citizens without burdening insurers with the cost of covering all ten essential health benefits, independents might suggest that private insurance plans be mandated to cover, for example, insurers’ choice five of the ten essential health benefits.

These example ideas use some of the elements from both government-controlled and insurer-controlled healthcare. By proposing solutions that combine elements of the traditional partisan ideas, independents provide Republican and Democratic legislators with options that might satisfy their donors and lobbyists. Independent solutions to our pressing problems will help our entire country begin to move past partisan gridlock to solve our nation’s pressing problems.

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Views and opinions expressed in guest posts do not necessarily reflect those of Unite America.