Can a divided Congress take any action on health care?

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- Democrats and Republicans struggle to find middle ground, as each side pushes opposing plans to fix health insurance. One Senator hopes changing the focus will change the result.

(Source: Gray DC)

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) said wasteful spending is bleeding $1.8-trilion out of American pocketbooks. “Up to half of everything we spend on health care in the United States is unnecessary,” he said.

Alexander argues focusing purely on the cost of care, and avoiding another debate over insurance and who pays what, will allow lawmakers to get to the heart of the problem. “You’re never going to have cheaper insurance, until you reduce health care costs," he said.

Alexander’s opinion matters. He’s in charge of driving the Senate’s health care agenda, and his ideas include lowering the cost of prescription drugs and clearer pricing for care. He’s also intrigued by the idea that doctors should be paid to fix a broken arm, rather than billing for every test, aspirin, or x-ray.

“There are some things Congress can do right now… doing some things in kind of incremental steps,” said Colin Seeberger with the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

Seeberger said he likes what he hears from Alexander, but argues big savings are unlikely without addressing insurance. The thinktank is shopping a plan to expand Medicare, making more people eligible and allowing others to buy-in.

While that idea doesn’t have bi-partisan traction in Congress, Seeberger said polling shows the public is on-board. He said that pressure could make big change possible in the future even if one party never gets enough votes to force its agenda through. “The American people want to get to a universal health care system,” he said, “members of Congress are going to accountable to their constituents.”

It’s unclear whether Congress will take meaningful steps to address health care costs this year or next. But, the issue will serve as the foundation for 2020 campaigns up and down the ballot and across the political spectrum.

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