Both Republicans and Democrats pursue their plans with ideological zeal and reckless disregard for the truth in hopes of winning 51 percent of the vote. Voters hold their nose and choose but would rather have their leaders search for consensus. That would require taking a little bit from the president's plan, a little bit from the Republicans and a lot from what voters think should be done.
Currently, Republicans are seen as wanting to give more authority to insurance companies, while Democrats want more power for the government. Voters are evenly divided as to which of those they fear the most, but they don't like either option. Americans want to make their own health care decisions.
That's why they overwhelmingly favor getting rid of special antitrust exemptions for insurance companies. Let the companies compete. It's also why they strongly oppose all government health care mandates. Sugary soda may lead to health problems, but only 24 percent think the government should ban the sale of large sugary drinks.
By a 3-to-1 margin, voters believe that free market competition will do more than additional government regulation to reduce health care costs. Democrats say that's the idea behind the exchanges required in the health care law. From the perspective of most Americans, that's a good thing. But President Obama's law allows only limited competition. All insurance policies must offer the same list of medical procedures mandated by the federal government. That's like Ford saying its customers can buy any color car they want so long as it's black. That won't satisfy consumers today.
Seventy-six percent of voters think every individual should have the right to choose between expensive health care plans that cover just about everything and less expensive plans that cover only major medical expenses. If Democrats would allow insurance companies to offer a variety of policies, perhaps Republicans would accept requiring those companies to offer a Cadillac policy covering everything mandated by the federal government.
That type of political compromise would ensure that everybody would have access to a top-tier plan, but nobody would be forced to pay for coverage they don't want.
The same approach could be taken with other aspects of the health care law. Democrats rightly note that the provision allowing students to stay on their parents' health insurance plan until age 26 is popular. But why not expand it and give more access to those over 26 by allowing all Americans to purchase the health insurance offered to members of Congress? Seventy-eight percent of voters think that's a good idea.
To make all the consumer choices meaningful, take the power away from employers to pick the insurance plan for their workers. If a company pays for employee health insurance, 82 percent believe that each employee should be allowed to use that money to select their own plan. If they come up with a less expensive option than their company chooses, most believe the workers should be allowed to keep the change.
If consumers are given control of their health care spending, thoughtful shoppers will demand better quality and better service. They also will bring down the cost of care.
Building consensus on health care reform requires taking good ideas from both Democrats and Republicans. As far as voters are concerned, good ideas are the ones that give individuals more control over their own health care decisions.