Editor's note: Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, is the House majority leader.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- History shows that the chance to reform the American health care system is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. So reform is absolutely worth the time it takes to get it right.
That's why Democrats are subjecting their plan to bring affordable health care to all Americans to intense scrutiny, and that's why we're going home to hear from our constituents, adding to the more than 550 health care town hall meetings and public events that have already taken place this year.
But there is also a distinct urgency to our work -- an urgency fired by an understanding that the most disastrous health plan is a simple extension of the status quo.
If reform splutters, we'll be left with a broken, unsustainable system, with health costs set to double over the next 10 years, and millions of more Americans projected to lose their coverage. As rising costs and rapidly-consolidating insurance giants strip coverage from more middle-class families, the costs of inaction will mount every year.
The failure of reform might hold political benefits for Republicans, like the senator who claimed that a health care stall is "going to be a huge gain for those of us who want to turn this thing over in the 2010 election." But for those Americans with more serious concerns -- including small business owners, the 47 million uninsured Americans, and the families in danger of joining their ranks -- health insurance reform must pass this year.
Though the details are still under debate -- especially when it comes to bringing down health care costs in the long term -- Democrats and President Obama agree on four principles that will form the backbone of the bill that reaches the president's desk.
The first principle is stability for the middle class. The Democratic plan will mean peace-of-mind and an end to fears of lost coverage and financial disaster. It will prevent medical bills from driving Americans into bankruptcy, and it will stop insurance companies from denying patients coverage because of what they consider pre-existing conditions, such as pregnancy, diabetes, heart disease or cancer. It will also mean truly secure coverage that doesn't end if a worker loses a job, changes jobs or decides to start a new business.
The second principle is affordable coverage for every American. At the center of our cost-lowering plan is a public insurance option that will strengthen competition in the insurance market and pressure private insurers to lower costs.
For doctors, the Democratic plan includes research on health outcomes to inform treatment choices and electronic records to improve collaboration -- both of which can make treatment more cost-effective.
For seniors, it means an end to the infamous Medicare Part D "doughnut hole," which prevents seniors with prescription drug costs of $2,700 to $6,100 per year from receiving Medicare support. And for small businesses, lower health care costs will remove a crippling burden that stifles their productivity and competitiveness.
The third principle is higher-quality care. Besides putting more health decisions in the hands of doctors and patients, not insurance accountants, one of the biggest things we can do to be a healthier nation is to strengthen our focus on preventive care.
Americans without insurance regularly forego the care that can keep chronic problems from turning into major illnesses, and even patients with insurance are often discouraged by out-of-pocket costs. Expanding coverage and ending out-of-pocket payments for care such as check-ups, mammograms, and diabetes exams can mean better health and big savings in the long run.
The fourth and last principle is patient choice. President Obama has been adamant on this point: Americans who like their coverage can keep it. In fact, the Democratic plan will expand choice by freeing doctors and patients to make the choices that maximize healthy outcomes, not insurance profits.
We are confident that these principles can stand up to the strongest criticism. For most of the 20th century, and into the 21st, America has struggled to create a health care system that is worthy of its most valued ideals: equality, opportunity and a strong middle class. Today, we are closer than ever.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Steny Hoyer.