Star Tribune

Ensuring robust public debate is one of the founding principles of our democracy. There is nothing more American than for citizens and their elected representatives to engage one another -- with ideas, questions, concerns and opinions -- on the important issues that face our nation. Health care reform is just such an issue and demands a serious, thoughtful discussion.

Americans are rightfully concerned and frustrated about the state of our health care system. Given our experience as representatives in Washington, we understand how important it is to ensure that all Minnesotans have the opportunity to communicate with those who represent them, whether by phone, e-mail, public forums, media interviews, town meetings (in person or via teleconference) or at the Minnesota State Fair, the mother of all town meetings.

Unfortunately, we've seen some recent public forums in other parts of the country descend into chaos. Instead of having a serious debate, the meetings devolved into shouting matches and fistfights. It is time for less shouting and more listening. The debate over health care is too important.

While we may not always agree, we do share the view that Minnesota has a lot to be proud of when it comes to health care. We rank near the top in terms of residents who have health insurance coverage, and our doctors and nurses are applauded for both the quality care they provide to patients and the cost-effective way they deliver that care. As our country debates health care reform, one of our top priorities is making sure any plan doesn't undermine the progress that Minnesota has already made.

There are areas where we can find common ground. For example, we both agree that for the sake of our families, our small businesses and our fiscal health, we must control health care costs. At $2.4 trillion per year, health care spending represents close to 17 percent of the American economy, and it will exceed 20 percent within a decade if current trends continue. Additionally, families are struggling to keep up with rising premiums and to afford the care they need.

Health care costs are hurting our small businesses. A new study found that they pay up to 18 percent more to provide health insurance for their employees, often forcing layoffs or reductions in coverage.

As part of any health care reform effort, our system needs to reward high-quality, efficient care to reduce health care costs. As it happens, doctors and hospitals in many regions of the country, including Minnesota, practice exactly this kind of medicine. The director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently testified before Congress that to truly contain health care spending, Congress must "change the way that Medicare pays providers in an effort to encourage cost-effectiveness in health care." We couldn't agree more.

When it comes to reforming our health care system, we know people hold many different opinions. Through phone calls, e-mails and public events, Minnesotans have always expressed their viewpoints, and clearly they are passionate about health care.

Since the founding of our nation, public debate has served as a cornerstone of our democracy -- informing elected officials of public opinion and strengthening our policies. So in the next few months we urge you to learn and participate by writing, calling, attending and listening. We hope for a vigorous and respectful conversation between opposing views so we can find common ground and strengthen our health care system.

Amy Klobuchar, D.-Minn., is a member of the U.S. Senate. Jim Ramstad, a Republican, represented Minnesota's Third District in the U.S. House for 18 years.