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Boston Globe- Health bill would fix what's broken

We have the greatest doctors and medical innovations in the world, but more and more Americans are on the outside looking in to a world of progress and discovery that is denied to them because they cannot afford quality healthcare.

That's wrong - and it's about to change.

President Obama knows it's time to act and he's providing impressive leadership. And I am thrilled to be working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to help bring forward the legislation that will build on what's already working and fix what's broken.

Our legislation will include five major elements.

First, we will give Americans better choices for health insurance. An important foundation of our legislation is the following principle: If you like the coverage you have now, you keep it. But if you don't have health insurance or don't like the insurance you have, our bill will give you new, more affordable options.

Our proposal establishes new gateways to better health across America. You can contact the gateways online, by phone, or in person to figure out what policy works for you. Through the gateway, we will facilitate choice by allowing consumers to compare the costs and benefits of different health insurance policies. We'll negotiate with insurance companies to keep premiums and copays low and help you with your premiums if you can't afford them. We'll make it illegal for insurers to deny coverage because of a preexisting condition or to impose other restrictions that keep you from getting the care you need. We're also hearing that some Americans want the choice of enrolling in a health insurance program backed by the government for the public good, not private profit - so that option will be available too.

If we succeed in providing good health insurance options and make them affordable to all Americans regardless of income, then people should have a responsibility to buy it for their families. That way insurance companies and hospitals will no longer have to tack the cost of uncompensated care to the uninsured onto the medical bills and premiums of those with insurance.

But reform isn't just about coverage. It's essential to bring down the cost of healthcare. That's why a second major element of our reform is cost reduction.

We'll go after fraud and abuse, cut red tape, and make sure that doctors and patients know of the latest, most effective therapies for their conditions. As experience has shown, it's better - and cheaper - to get it right the first time rather than have patients go in and out of the hospital. So we'll start paying for the overall quality of care, not the quantity of procedures. We'll make certain that doctors and patients will have better information so they can decide which treatment is best based on real evidence.

Runaway healthcare costs threaten the economic survival of this nation. Bringing them under control will not be easy, and all of us - business, labor, providers, and government - will have to make real sacrifices if this is to work.

A third key element of our legislation will be a new emphasis on prevention. The best way to treat a disease is to prevent it from ever striking. We'll promote early screening for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and depression. We'll give our citizens more information on healthy nutrition and the dangers of smoking. We'll do this not just in medical settings, but in our communities and at our schools so we give our citizens the information they need to take charge of their own health.

Fourth, we'll make it possible for the elderly and disabled to live at home and function independently. Our bill will help them afford to put ramps in their homes, pay someone to check in on them regularly, or any of an array of supports that will enable them to stay in their communities instead of in nursing homes.

Finally, we will take strong steps to see that America has a 21st-century workforce for a modern and responsive healthcare system. We must invest in training the doctors, nurses, and other health professionals who will serve the needs of patients in the years to come. And we must make sure that an emphasis on primary care and basic prevention is at the heart of our efforts.

To achieve these changes, all must share the responsibility and the costs - businesses, government, healthcare providers, and individuals alike. Health reform will benefit all our citizens, reduce the financial burdens on our nation's businesses, and put the healthcare industry itself on a sustainable basis.

Change is never easy, but the status quo is no longer acceptable to any except those who profit from the current broken healthcare system.

We cannot afford to wait - or to fail. And we will do neither.

And when successful reform takes hold, the American people will wonder what has taken us so long.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy is chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.