As 2013 begins, encouraging a discussion about how to replace Obamacare might strike some observers as a case of particularly bad timing. After all, in the year just ended, the Supreme Court upheld most of the provisions of the law and the president won re-election. As a consequence, the best opportunities to remove the law from the books all disappeared. The tough reality now is that Obamacare is not going to be undone during the next four years. So why bring up an alternative plan at this point?

The answer is that replacing Obamacare is by necessity a long-term project; you have to start somewhere. Moreover, it remains essential. Like it not, health care policy is central to the struggle over the size and scope of governmental power. Without a better approach than Obamacare, there will be no success in limiting government or in lessening the dependence of citizens on the state.

It is also going to take a lot of work and political effort to build the political coalition necessary to move health care policy in a different direction. Indeed, one of the reasons Obamacare passed in the first place is because opponents of government-dominated health care never coalesced around a serious and workable alternative in the years prior to 2009. Moreover, those efforts that did take place to promote a real alternative, such as Sen. John McCain’s proposal from the 2008 campaign, fell far short because they were not preceded by the necessary policy and political groundwork.

But all is not lost. Obamacare is flawed legislation that is already forcing employers to cut back their hiring and limit hours of work. It will soon send premiums sky high for many Americans who already have insurance. Promises about the law’s coverage and cost-control effects were greatly exaggerated. There will come a time — sooner rather than later — when Americans will be ready to hear again about an alternative to Obamacare’s government-heavy approach. At that moment, which might coincide with the 2016 presidential election contest, Obamacare’s opponents must be ready with a viable, center-right, market-based alternative that can win public support. And the only way to be ready for a debate on health care in 2016 is to get to work now on the alternative plan. It takes that long to develop a workable framework, get it analyzed with credible numbers, and refine it to ensure it has broad appeal.

In that spirit, I am circulating again two essays on this subject from 2012. The first, co-authored by myself and Robert Moffit of the Heritage Foundation and published in the journal National Affairs, describes what we see as the fundamental principles of an effective, market-based reform plan. The second — a sequel of sorts to the first — is my effort to provide more detail on some of the key features of a workable alternative plan. It was published last month by the American Enterprise Institute in its Health Policy Outlook series.

Advocates of expansive governmental power are always more comfortable than their limited-government opponents talking about health care policy. It is far easier to sell “the government will take care of it” than to explain why a decentralized, market-driven approach will be better for voters anxious for certainty about their health care needs. Nonetheless, this fight cannot be avoided. Health care is too important to fiscal policy, to the American economy, and to the concerns of voters to be set aside as an unwinnable issue.

It is of course true that full replacement of Obamacare with a workable, market-based alternative will be an extremely difficult undertaking. But it is also true that a new direction in health care policy is crucial for the future prosperity of the country. And so, that being the case, it’s far better to get started on the effort now than to delay and thereby handicap the possibility of future success.