These health care facts bother U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn: 45 million uninsured Americans, an 87 percent increase in family insurance premiums since 2000, a tax code that favors Americans getting health insurance through their employer, five preventable chronic diseases cause two-thirds of U.S. deaths.

Here's another: Democrats, emboldened by their 2006 electoral advances, are hot and heavy for a new run at big-government health care solutions. John Edwards, a front-runner for the party's '08 presidential nomination, feels the coast is clear enough to acknowledge his plan will require raising taxes.

In that context Coburn's newly unveiled Universal Health Care Choice and Access Act is a welcome counterstroke. Building on President Bush's proposal to create tax code neutrality toward health care, the Muskogee Republican's plan attempts reform through free-market principles that empower individuals.

Like Bush, Coburn would end the tax break businesses get for offering health care to employees, leveling the playing field for the self-insured and providing new access to coverage to the uninsured.

Coburn's plan would offer a tax rebate with which Americans could shop for their own insurance. That alone should foster greater competition among providers and help control or reduce costs. Because it's a rebate instead of a tax credit, as Bush proposed, it would tangibly help uninsured, low-income Americans who don't pay enough tax to be aided by a credit.

Coburn's plan would emphasize prevention by coordinating federal initiatives, eliminating ineffective programs and encouraging individuals to make healthy lifestyle choices. He says the proposal would create insurance portability and greater transparency in terms of costs and services.

The plan promises to preserve Medicare and refocus Medicaid by encouraging states to innovate. It includes a provision for tort reform to ease the upward pressure on health care costs caused by lawsuits.

Coburn's is a serious proposal. Its free-market contrast with resurrected notions of HillaryCare should get careful consideration as reform legislation is assembled and debated.