Attacks targeting the Democrats’ health care law passed last year have intensified as Republicans have taken control of the United States House of Representatives. A complete repeal — which failed in the Senate but passed the House — was even attempted last month. To make matters worse, conservative judges from Virginia and Florida ruled the vital portion of the law mandating individuals to buy insurance unconstitutional, setting the stage for a review of the law by an unpredictable Supreme Court. It’s clear the legislation is being targeted from all angles.

But the “Empowering States to Innovate Act,” which was introduced Feb. 1 by Sen. Ron Wyden (D—Ore.) and is officially backed by the Obama administration could help preserve the reforms. The bill amends the health care law by “accelerating State Innovation Waivers,” which means states may be granted exemptions from key provisions of the bill — like the individual coverage mandate and required establishment of health insurance exchanges — beginning in 2014 rather than 2017. The catch is that states will have to find alternative reforms that work just as well. According to a Feb. 28 White House press release, proposals different from the law can be implemented as long as they provide coverage that is “at least as comprehensive … at least as affordable … to at least as many residents” and don’t increase the federal deficit. Maine has already been granted a kind of waiver for one regulation, but it’s only a temporary exemption that addresses concerns specific to the state’s insurance market.

This is a brilliant political move by the Obama administration — it staves off some political opposition by averting potential wider-ranging attacks aimed at the structure of the law and sends the message that the White House is willing to compromise. Not surprisingly then, senators across the political spectrum have embraced the waiver idea. Self-described Democratic Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I—Vt.) — whose state is in the process of attempting to institute a European style single-payer system — originally inserted the provision into the legislation. On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Scott Brown (R—Mass.) — though he ran his election campaign on blocking health reform — is a cosponsor of the proposal to move the waiver date forward.

Setting aside the proposal’s political appeal, moving the state waiver eligibility date forward could expose alternative and more efficient ideas to accomplish the reform goals of the administration. The president has even admitted the current reform package isn’t perfect, so allowing states some flexibility to implement their own policy preferences would allow for comparisons of efficacy between different methods. For example, if Vermont puts single-payer into place, its outcomes could be juxtaposed and contrasted with the individual mandate and insurance exchange system called for under the federal reform. As a consequence, the health care debate will become more substantive — governors are going to have to support their criticism of the federal law by developing innovative policies that satisfy tangible health care quality and affordability benchmarks.

It appears then, that Republicans shouldn’t have any trouble getting on board with this proposal — it’s a reasonable challenge that could reveal effective policy solutions, both liberal and conservative, right? But The Wall Street Journal expressed its doubts in a March 3 article. The paper labels reform goals — which include universal coverage and affordability — as “liberal priorities” that rule out “market oriented” reforms like tax credits to purchase insurance and high deductible or value-based plans. The WSJ contends that liberals “think they have a monopoly on good ideas.” So basically, the rebuttal is that near-universal coverage and the administration’s apparently unreasonable definition of “affordability” — which is too lenient — aren’t possible through “market-based” solutions but will instead lead to greater centralization.

As the criticism moves beyond policy solutions to question the premises of health reform, it doesn’t carry the same robust public appeal that came with calls to “repeal.” Voters didn’t take issue with the goals of health reform — the bill was unpopular because it was falsely tagged as a “government takeover of health care,” not because of its regulations banning discrimination with respect to preexisting conditions and promises of greater, more comprehensive coverage.

Though The Wall Street Journal’s analysis seems more like a rationalization for political criticism than anything else, what if it’s right that the paper’s definition of “market-based” reforms are impossible under the administration’s guidelines? Maybe, then, those policy solutions aren’t appropriate for what Americans want from their health care system.

Health care reform is going to be an evolving process, and if it’s going to be a bipartisan effort, there has to be some compromise. President Barack Obama at least one Republican , Scott Brown, have made an effort to reach across the aisle — it’s time for others to join them.

Harsha Panduranga is a senior editorial page editor.

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