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A crisis we should not waste

Kay Bailey Hutchison and Frank J. Macchiarola
Tuesday, 3 Dec 2013 | 7:47 AM ET

During the past couple of months, Americans' attention has been riveted on the implementation of President Obama's signature health-care law. The focus has been on the abysmal introduction of the health-care exchange website, and the broken promise to millions of Americans who were assured they would be able to keep their health-insurance plans.

Beyond the obvious missteps lurks a stark reality for many Americans who soon face an even more personal intrusion as they learn that their health insurance is no longer available, their choice of doctors may be limited, and their insurance premiums will rise significantly under this new health-care regime. For small businesses, the disruptive uncertainty of this law has been paralyzing, and has resulted in a surge of part-time hiring.

Over time, the negative consequences of this law will affect Americans in cuts to Medicare benefits, and even in areas outside of the consumption of health care. For example, hidden within this massive law are tax increases for individuals earning capital gains, dividends and passive income wholly unrelated to health care.

YinYang | E+ | Getty Images

Amid this parade of horribles, it would be tempting for Republicans who unanimously opposed this law four years ago to simply pile on criticism echoing the sentiment of the growing public disaffection. However, a far wiser course is to lead with solutions.

(Read more: Error rate for Obamacare enrollments still a secret)

For the first time in recent memory, a series of public surveys show that the American people trust Republicans as much as Democrats to do a better job on health care. In the key demographics of independents and millennials, Republicans are outperforming Democrats. It is time to earn this greater trust, not through a comprehensive one-size-fits-all approach, but rather by offering a series of targeted, meaningful policy solutions.

Obamacare website fix: Too little, too late?
Jared Bernstein, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, (R-TX), discuss how computer glitches on the Healthcare.gov website impacted Americans looking for health care coverage.

We agree with President Obama that the current health-care system simply does not work for many Americans. In addition, expanding access to care for more Americans including those with pre-existing conditions is a laudable goal with which we agree with the president. However, these goals should not be attained by lowering the quality and availability for those who have confidence in the health care they now have.

At the start, any improvements to our health-care system should begin with a basic focus on three core principles: reducing the cost of health care, providing greater access to care and increasing the quality of the care provided. It is important to recognize that, for too long, too many health-care consumers have been separated from the cost of care and thus have no incentive to make the wise choices they would otherwise make as informed consumers.

(Read more: Healthcare.gov fixed? Insurers say no)

Policies such as unlimited health savings accounts to address this problem would go a long way toward reducing health-care spending by the consumer. Additionally, health-care consumers value greater choice in shaping their own individual needs. Forcing people into exchanges that dictate the type of care they must receive restrains choice and increases costs. Finally, we should focus on real incentives for medical innovation to help improve the quality of our care. Policies like the new excise tax on medical devices in the health law stifle innovation and frustrate quality.

The past few months have brought a renewed attention to health-care policy. This new focus offers the opportunity to re-engage in debates about health-savings accounts, small business health plans, medical-liability reforms and allowing insurance plans to be available across state lines to provide bigger pools that lower costs. Medicare-reform proposals offered in recent years by members from both parties are a starting point. But, prescriptive requirements such as an employer mandate (or in the alternative an imposition of a fine) restrains hiring and causes businesses to opt-out of plans that are satisfactory to their employees.

(Read more: Obama needs to heed insurer concerns: Ex-HHS chief)

At the beginning of the Obama Administration, then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel famously quipped, "You never want to let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is that it is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before." The flawed health-care law and its floundering roll-out have created a crisis of confidence and trust. Serious thought leaders and policy makers should seize this opportunity to re-engage the public, lead with solutions, and "not let this crisis go to waste."

— By Kay Bailey Hutchison and Frank J. Macchiarola

Kay Bailey Hutchison is senior counsel at Bracewell & Giuliani LLP. She served as a U.S. senator (R-Texas) from 1993-2013.

Frank J. Macchiarola, is a senior principal at Bracewell & Giuliani LLP. He served as Republican Staff Director of the Senate HELP Committee from 2009-2013.

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