Grassley, Ernst should lead on bipartisan health care reforms

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It’s time for Congress to work together to craft a health care plan that can satisfy more Americans and provide for their needs. And Iowa’s delegation to the U.S. Senate must help set a new tone of collaboration.

Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., already have begun working on a compromise to stabilize insurance markets and fix problems within the current law. They began with public hearings, and promised open debate.

Those efforts were largely and purposefully derailed by the last-ditch push for the Graham-Cassidy bill. Alexander abruptly announced the bipartisan discussions had failed — a move intended to spur more support for the Republican-only repeal plan. But now that Graham-Cassidy has been shelved, there is time and an appetite for fixes to the current law that could draw majority support. On Wednesday, Alexander said he is ready to restart negotiations.

Compromise requires setting aside partisan wants — including good intentioned, but short-on-details campaign rhetoric. Focus must be on collaboration, on keeping what most Americans like about the current health care law and finding common ground on shared frustrations.

Polling continues to show Iowans and Americans support components of the Affordable Care Act, especially when those components are separated from their beleaguered Obamacare origins. People want other people, especially those with lower incomes, to have access to cost-saving preventive care. They don’t want to turn back the clock to losing affordable coverage for pre-existing conditions, which not only placed their neighbors at increased risk for medical and financial catastrophe, but limited the ability of American workers to move or shift employment. Iowans want to keep children on their plans while those children pursue vocational certifications or higher education degrees, and they don’t want the elderly or disabled to face diminished quality of life due to exorbitant health care costs.

A hallmark of the fledgling compromise effort was to establish scaled-down insurance plans for younger, healthier Americans who are willing to take larger financial risks.

Democrats also had offered increased flexibility at the state level in shaping insurance markets, and were considering changes to ease insurance burdens on smaller businesses and entrepreneurs. Senators largely agree premiums must be lowered and individual markets revitalized for 2018 and 2019.

The pause in bipartisan negotiations means the Sept. 27 deadline for insurers’ final contracts with Health and Human Services was missed, leaving a rocky path forward. While Congress has failed to work together, the executive branch has filled the void by enacting policies that favor industry needs and limit public understanding and access to whatever health care options remain.

We hope and expect Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst to be outspoken leaders of a more measured approach. Senators of good faith can look for and embrace compromise.

Seven years of standoffs and fiery rhetoric is enough. Fix the law.

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