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Commentary: Let states take lead on health care

  • Story Highlights
  • Jason Chaffetz: I disagree with increasing federal role in health care
  • He says Obama's mention of competition is hopeful sign for bipartisanship
  • He says states can be more innovative and flexible than federal government
  • Chaffetz: There are many areas of common ground between the parties
By Jason Chaffetz
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican, represents the 3rd District of Utah in Congress and is appearing in CNN.com's "Freshman Year" series, along with Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz says Obama's speech glossed over danger that the public option will reduce competition.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz says Obama's speech glossed over danger that the public option will reduce competition.

(CNN) -- Fundamentally at its core, I simply disagree with the president.

He would like more federal control. I believe the best solutions will happen within the states.

I found it disingenuous that the president promised Americans they would not be required to drop their current health insurance, but withheld the fact that their employers would be incentivized to do so.

I was heartened to hear him discuss tort reform as a tool for driving down costs. If the president means what he says about the value of choice and competition, then there may be hope for a bipartisan compromise.

President Obama wants Americans to have more choices. So do I. My constituents also want more choices. But they acknowledge what the president and Democratic leaders do not -- that a public option will ultimately result in fewer choices, not more.

Asking health insurance companies to compete against their tax- exempt, taxpayer-subsidized regulator is a recipe for disaster. The deck is stacked so heavily against the private sector that a transition to a fully government-run system would only be a matter of time. If President Obama really wants choice and competition in the long run, then his best hope is to jettison the public option. iReport.com: "Obama's speech lacked courage"

Like my colleagues, I went home during the recess to thousands of constituents who have strong opinions about health care. Although the vast majority of voters in Utah oppose a public option, most recognize that something has to change.

In back-to-back town hall meetings, I had more than 1,000 people show up each night. In the rural counties of my district, unprecedented numbers of people came out to participate. What an amazing display of patriotism to see so many Americans stand up and demand to be heard!

There were poignant stories told highlighting the very real problems people face. People expressed grave concerns about the country's current spending spree. One youth held a sign that read, "Don't spend my $$$ before I'm old enough to earn it!" Health care was clearly the galvanizing issue.

I'm grateful that we as a Congress did not try to pass a health care bill none of us had read before going into this recess. I've spent many hours reading the entire text of HR 3200 -- the only health care bill that has made it through the committee process and is available to discuss with constituents.

It's no wonder there is so much confusion about what the bill means. Many of the provisions are vague or undefined. I told participants at my town hall meetings that I absolutely would not be supporting that bill.

Although there are many plans under consideration from both Republicans and Democrats, I have yet to find one that I believe would be the best solution for Utah. There are promising provisions in each of the proposals, but they take a one-size-fits-all approach to health care. In reality, what works well in one state may not work as well in another. Each state has unique demographics, resources and health challenges.

I believe we will obtain the best results when we allow states as much autonomy as possible to address their unique challenges. The principle of federalism works because it allows state and local governments to tailor their policy solutions to the needs of their populations.

We have to remember that the federal government did not create the states. States created the federal government. We would do well to unleash the creative power of state and local governments to innovate and drive new solutions.

That said, I recognize that some elements of health care reform must be addressed at the federal level. President Obama's remarks indicate it is still possible to bridge the differences between conservatives and liberals on this issue. I think we could solve 80 percent of this problem by simply passing the provisions on which we can agree.

The process is important. If we have a bad process, we will get a bad result. I believe toxic rhetoric and partisan abuse of the rules by either side only poisons the electorate and the process. I prefer to work in a bipartisan manner to weed out the provisions that both sides cannot live with and to implement those on which we can agree.

There are many good provisions that can easily pull support from both sides of the aisle. For example, few would fight efforts to incentivize preventive care, provide affordable access to insurance, make policies portable, cover pre-existing conditions, allow opt-out provisions for states, and promote more transparency in pricing and effectiveness of health care services. These are not controversial provisions. Furthermore, both sides would likely admit they would go a long way toward improving our health care system.

Meanwhile, I support the work of states to address health care challenges for their own unique populations. I hope more states will follow the lead of states like Utah to innovate and experiment with new ways to improve health care for their residents. Not every idea will work, but we can learn from successes, failures, and everything in between.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

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