Democrat Richard Gephardt, a former House Majority Leader, and Republican Tommy Thompson, former secretary of Health and Human Services and a former governor of Wisconsin, are calling for a new start for the health care debate.

In an op-ed published in the Miami Herald, Gephardt and Thompson argue that the raucous nature of the debate has obscured the need for reform and urged the creation of a White House summit focused on finding areas of common ground.

"Regardless of the divisive tone, Congress and the administration cannot afford to get sidetracked," they write. "More than one out of seven Americans do not have health insurance. In the absence of meaningful near-term reform, the Urban Institute estimates that an additional 20 million Americans could be without health insurance by 2019."

Gephardt and Thompson say the debate should focus on staunching rising health care costs, noting that premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance in the United States have been rising four times faster, on average, than workers' earnings since 2000. They single out chronic disease as a primary driver behind sky rocketing costs, adding that these costs will only get worse as America's population ages.

The duo also recommended greater use of technology as a way to lower the overall cost of care. "Investing in health innovation-from effective use of health information technology to funding breakthrough research and initiatives that will help cure our most pressing medical challenges-should also be a centerpiece of the public dialogue around cost containment."

With President Obama set to address a joint session of congress next week, Gephardt and Thompson conclude that the timing is optimal to start the debate anew.

"As the president and Members of Congress come together on Capitol Hill next week, it is time to set aside the partisan rhetoric and reach a historic agreement that brings down cost, provides a boost to our nation's economy, increases coverage and protects overall quality of care," they write. "Put simply, the American people deserve no less."

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