Cease-fire campaign promotes cooperation

A new health system reform law that received rapid and broad approval could serve as a model for moving forward despite partisan bickering.

By Joel B. Finkelstein — Posted July 18, 2005

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Washington -- Are Republicans and Democrats ready to declare a cease-fire and start reforming the health care system? That's what a new group is asking them to do.

The "Ceasefire on Health Care" Campaign is an effort spearheaded by John Breaux, a former Democratic senator from Louisiana. He wants to stimulate talks between the parties and develop meaningful, incremental health system reforms.

There is even some hope that he could succeed.

President Bush recently signed into law a bipartisan measure that will fund so-called patient navigators, professionals who steer individuals through the complexities of the health care system and help them access all available resources.

The new law grew out of a grassroots effort but was the product of compromise and negotiation, said sponsor Rep. Robert Menendez (D, N.J.). With the help of colleague Rep. Deborah Pryce (R, Ohio), the bill passed through Congress in a matter of months.

"It's a textbook example of how the legislative process should work," said Menendez, who in late June talked about passing the bill at the first of a series of forums organized by the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington, D.C.

While the new law constitutes a fairly small step on the road to reform, lawmakers hope it will serve as a model of bipartisanship on health care matters that presages a series of incremental reforms that add up to large-scale change.

"If there is any one issue that is so complicated that it cries out for cooperative endeavors between members of Congress, it is really the issue of health care. This is not an issue that can be solved by only one party in a divided government," Breaux said.

Many reform proposals have bipartisan support and could come about through this approach. Common ground already exists for health insurance tax credits, expanded public coverage for children, increased funding for community health centers, and high-risk insurance pools, according to a campaign statement.

Disease and illness affect Democrats and Republicans equally, said Rep. Joe Schwarz, MD (R, Mich.).

"This is one place where we all need to work together," he said. "If we wait much longer to address the health care problems in this country, they may well be insurmountable. ... If we act now, starting with small steps, but critically important steps like this act, we're going to win in the end."

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