I voted to begin the formal process of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act last week. To be clear: Congress has not yet repealed Obamacare and people currently enrolled will not be dropped from their health plans. We did not make any changes to current healthcare laws. What this means is that with a new Congress, a new administration, and a new year, we now have an opportunity to provide real, necessary reforms to our healthcare system.

I have offered a number of policy recommendations over the last several years that should serve as a blueprint for how to begin helping Kansans and Americans across the country who have suffered as a result of the Affordable Care Act’s flaws. Under this law, canceled policies, elimination of many plans, difficulties in identifying new plans, massive premium increases, sky-high deductibles and limited options for doctors have become the new normal for many American families. 

Reforms to replace the law must be passed quickly so the American people know they will continue to have access to care. To that end, I spoke on the Senate floor a few days after the start of the new congress to again offer up my ideas. These policy recommendations outline the kinds of changes I believe our new healthcare policy must include.

First, we should maintain pre-existing condition protections to those with continuous coverage. Individuals with debilitating diseases and chronic conditions who have purchased health care should be reassured that their coverage will not be stripped in any future changes to the healthcare system.

Second, we can increase coverage by enabling Americans to shop for plans from coast to coast no matter what state they live in. This will lower premiums by spurring greater competition in the insurance market.

Third, we should extend tax savings to those who purchase health coverage, regardless of their employment. To assist low-income Americans, we can offer tax credits to help them obtain private insurance of their choice. We can also help expand access to care by supporting community health centers and other primary care access points.

Fourth, instead of limiting the choice of plans, let’s give small businesses and organizations the ability to pool together in order to offer health insurance at lower prices – similar to corporations and labor unions. We also need to make it possible for health insurance to travel with workers when they move from job to job throughout their careers.

Fifth, we ought to incentivize individuals to save now for future and long-term care needs by empowering them to utilize health savings accounts and other incentive plans. Doing so enables Americans to take ownership of their own health.

Sixth, we need not accept the idea that costs for currently available medical treatments will inevitably rise. Instead, let’s continue boosting our support for the National Institutes of Health. Advancing life-saving medical research and spurring innovation will reduce costs and help alleviate the financial burdens of our health system.

Seventh, we need to address shortages in our medical workforce by advancing initiatives that educate and train doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals and encourage them to practice in underserved areas through scholarship and loan-repayment programs.

Eighth, in order to curb the preventable costs that are often incurred through unnecessary emergency room visits and untreated symptoms of disease, we should provide coverage to low-income Americans in a financially sustainable way that ends up saving money in the long term. Ensuring access to quality care with a focus on preventative health is the most effective way to limit high-cost health visits that place a burden on hospitals, physicians, our economy and our health system as a whole.

Lastly, we can reform our medical liability system and reduce frivolous lawsuits that result in inflated premiums and the practice of “defensive medicine,” where doctors order every possible test for fear of potential lawsuits. Doing so will save tens of billions of dollars each year and make healthcare more affordable for everyone.

As I have considered these recommendations over the years, I have also spent that time visiting each of the 126 hospitals in our state. I have had conversations with the CEOs, CFOs, trustees, doctors and nurses. Almost without exception, the conversation is about how their expenses have increased and fewer patients can pay their bills because they cannot afford the co-payments and deductibles.

Obamacare has taken away Americans’ freedom to make healthcare decisions and given far too much authority to the federal government. Kansans continue to ask me to help them get their former healthcare plans back, to find a better way to do this, and to work out a system that gives them affordable options with better coverage.

As we move forward to improve care for all, I will be working with my colleagues –  Republicans and Democrats alike – to find solutions to take advantage of this opportunity and ensure there is no lapse in care. Americans should have access to truly affordable, quality healthcare – the kind they were promised in 2010. The American people are hurting under this law and they have spoken clearly. It’s time to bring them the change they’ve asked for and make certain no one has to worry about whether the care they or their family member needs is outside their reach.