Balking at Baucus: With Health Care, Why Not Settle for the Possible?

It wasn't long after Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, unveiled the Senate Finance Committee version of health care reform before the knives came out — from both directions.

The $856 billion, 10-year plan was supposed to push the reset button on health care reform, but Democrats sense flagging support for the controversial "public option," and Republicans assailed its cost and complexity.

Controversy over the public plan, coverage for illegal aliens, and taxpayer-funded abortions have sucked up all the oxygen of late, but the importance of bending the cost curve is what should be the primary focus.

It's anyone's guess as to whether the system of non-profit, member-owned cooperatives, structured like electric co-ops, can appease Republicans opposed to the public plan. If not, the "Powers that Be" may have to settle for what is possible this go-around, especially if it helps rein in spiraling costs.

In all likelihood, "the possible" includes things like allowing small businesses to pool together and gain economies of scale in purchasing, enabling purchasers to shop for insurance across state lines, and tort reform that results in less defensive medicine in the form of costly and unnecessary tests.

It would be nice if, instead of outright cuts in Medicare to help finance the package, the federal government would study why some regions control Medicare costs better than others and then emulate the more successful, efficient models. Otherwise, seniors will continue to raise hell and scuttle reform.

Having noted that, I like the Senate Finance provision that would inform people covered by their employers about how much their health insurance actually costs, information that would be provided on their W-2 tax forms. This is something consumers should know but often don't.

I also have no objections to a provision that calls for fining people that can afford to buy insurance but choose not to. Why? Because the rest of us end up paying for their care, often emergency care, and fines — as much as $950 per individual and $3,800 per family — are just the incentive they need to do the responsible thing and buy insurance. Now THAT would cut down on the number of uninsured.

Ultimately, people on both sides will have to swallow hard and understand that the ultimate measure will not include everything they want, but it needs to accomplish something meaningful on the cost side.