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Americans deserve affordable care

Health care reform is a critical national issue that must transcend political labels and parties. It should be guided by the voices of the American people, who expect Congress to work together to solve this challenge in an open, bipartisan and fiscally prudent manner. If we take a realistic approach, we can achieve responsible health care reform that enjoys support on both sides of the aisle.

Americans want health care reform that reduces costs and provides affordable access. But they also worry about preserving their current quality of care, improving a struggling economy and reducing the nation's debt. Amid this uncertainty, Congress should be careful about doing too much, too fast and risking mistakes that cannot be undone.

We as a nation are facing sobering economic realities that, if ignored, could threaten our very way of life. Our deficit this year alone stands at an astounding $1.5 trillion, the highest since World War II. Our national debt is set to double in the next five years and triple in the next 10. Moreover, Medicare is facing a $38 trillion unfunded liability and is rapidly headed toward bankruptcy within a decade.

In reforming health care, Congress cannot ignore the fiscal realities and rely on the failed formula of big government. That is the problem with the current bills.

These bills:

Slash almost $500 billion from a bankrupt Medicare program to finance new entitlement spending.

Increase taxes on American families and businesses by more than $500 billion.

Impose an unconstitutional federal requirement on Americans to either purchase a Washington-defined level of coverage or face a penalty.

Force a federal employer mandate to provide insurance that multiple studies have shown to be a job-killer.

Expand a fiscally insolvent Medicaid program on the backs of states.

Rely on budget gimmicks to hide the true cost of this $2.5 trillion plan by starting taxes immediately while delaying spending provisions to 2014 and beyond.

The bills also significantly increase the power of federal bureaucracies.

This does not mean we should delay health care reform. Our current economic realities do, however, dictate that we take a more incremental and fiscally responsible approach. Instead, let us craft a step-by-step approach that will put America on a path to sustainable reform. Here are seven steps that will help achieve bipartisan legislation.

1. Reduce junk lawsuits against doctors through comprehensive tort reform so doctors spend less on harmful defensive medicine and more on quality patient care.

2. Combat waste, fraud and abuse through stronger penalties and adoption of similar technology used to identify credit card fraud.

3. Allow small businesses to pool resources to purchase health insurance for employees through the bipartisan small-business health plan legislation.

4. Let Americans purchase health insurance across state lines to increase competition and create a national market for health insurance.

5. Put states in charge of health care reform. We need to encourage state flexibility instead of designing a one-size-fits-all Washington solution.

6. Give states the choice and flexibility to establish their own version of a health care marketplace.

7. Work with states to ensure the coverage of Americans with pre-existing conditions, incentivize healthy living and stop abusive insurance company practices.

Americans have made it clear that another big federal spending bill is the wrong solution. The current proposals will neither lower costs nor help Americans keep the coverage they have.

Americans expect Congress to pass reform that is responsible and affordable.

There is still time to work together as Americans to achieve responsible and meaningful health care reform.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, is the state's senior senator.