PHILADELPHIA — As presidential candidates bring up their health care reform proposals on the campaign trail, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., want to make sure their pending plan to change health care also gets thoroughly discussed.

The senators used a forum at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia Monday as part of their tour in touting the Healthy Americans Act. The senators know the bill likely will not pass this year, but they want to talk about its components with the public, not just their fellow lawmakers in Washington. The senators talked about the bill in New York City last October.

"We haven't got the perfect bill, but we have the perfect debate," Bennett said. "We seem to be talking to each other rather than past each other."

Bennett noted that Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., both running for the Democratic presidential nomination, often debate their health care plans.

"But it's the members of Congress who are going to have to legislate," Bennett said.

The bill would allow individuals to choose their own health-care plans, and health insurance would no longer be tied to a person's job, along with several other changes. The bill aims to take employers out of the business of managing health-care plans. Instead, state-based Health Help Agencies would aid individuals in picking and enrolling in plans.

"We're creating a framework for a discussion in the next Congress," Bennett said.

Regardless of which candidate wins the White House, Bennett and Wyden want to be able to present their plan as something members from both parties — and the public — can understand and support.

"If we can achieve that we would have accomplished something extremely significant," Bennett said.

Wyden said they want to give the new president a plan that is different from past efforts and not "bogged down" in partisanship.

One of the main problems in health care, Bennett said, is that patients do not know how much services cost, and the system is geared more toward the employers that provide the coverage than the patients themselves.

"This makes absolutely no sense," Bennett said. "The incentives are distorted, and the transparency is not there."

Under the act, Wyden explained that employers would give workers the cash value of what they would otherwise spend on health care for the employee. It would then be up to the employee to find their best coverage. If they spend less on coverage than what their employer did, they can just keep the rest of the money.

Bennett used the example that he and his wife no longer need any coverage related to pregnancy, noting that they have six grown children with no plans for any more. Under the Healthy Americans Act, the Bennetts would be able to find a plan that did not include baby coverage and possibly save money.


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