As the first decade of the new millennium comes to a close, we stand on the edge of passing historic health care reform legislation.  This week the Senate passed its health reform bill.  With every step of this process, we get closer and closer to improving a health care system that has become untenable for so many Americans. 
Though the health care debate has been long and at times rancorous, in years to come we will not remember the disagreements, the harsh rhetoric, or the misinformation that has been spread.  Just as with the creation of Social Security in 1935 and Medicare in 1965, both of which were nearly waylaid by detractors and critics, the changes and improvements that result from this legislation will drown out the faint echoes of dissent.
We will remember the passage of health reform as the time we finally put American patients ahead of the insurance companies.  We will celebrate how we took the first difficult steps to make bankruptcy due to illness a thing of the past.  We will hail the legislation that moved us toward universal coverage, something that all other industrialized countries take for granted.
Reforming the nation's health care system is no easy task - this is as complicated as it gets.  In crafting legislation, we have factored in the unique health care needs of millions of Americans.  We have made sure that those who are happy with their current coverage can keep it.  And we have also considered how reform will affect a variety of small and large businesses.
I have voted for and stand by this bill.  Some of the provisions included in health reform have been studied, perfected, and championed by experts for years.  And some are just plain common sense.  With this bill, we are helping both young and old.  For instance, those age 26 and under will immediately be eligible to join their parents' insurance plan.  And the bill will provide free preventive services for over 870,000 seniors in Wisconsin while shoring up Medicare, making it solvent for an additional decade.
Certain provisions will benefit everyone, regardless of age.  We are leveling the playing field by putting a stop to insurance company abuses, providing more choice and competition in health care coverage, and reining in health care costs.  The term "pre-existing condition" will be a thing of the past.  Patients will be able to appeal to an independent board if their claim is denied.  Insurance companies will not be able to drop a policyholder when they get sick and need coverage the most.
Not only will individuals benefit from these changes, but so will the small businesses that often provide their coverage.  We understand that health care costs are breaking the bank for small businesses.  These business owners are the ones who know their employees by name and know their families.  They want to do right by their people.  Yet it often becomes a choice between unaffordable health insurance, or staying afloat and providing a paycheck to workers.
Beginning next year, a great number of small businesses will be given tax credits to help provide health insurance to their employees.  For those that do not currently offer insurance coverage, the bill will create a marketplace for their workers to purchase insurance. 
This bill is also good for Wisconsin, which has always been ahead of the curve in terms of providing health care coverage to our most vulnerable.  The bill will provide additional federal funds for BadgerCare, alleviating some of the burden on our state budget and preserving access to care that so many depend on.
As we all know, Wisconsin boasts some of the best health care systems in the country.  They serve as models because they prioritize the value of the care they provide over the amount of care they provide.  They understand that duplicative testing and treatment do not result in better health outcomes.  In this health reform bill, changes to the Medicare reimbursement system will reward efficient systems of care such as those found in our state.
These are provisions I have fought for, among many others.  Health reform will also do a great deal to improve long-term care, reduce the cost of prescription drugs, and enhance consumer protections, all in a fiscally responsible way.  While this bill does a lot to reduce health care costs, we cannot stop here.  This is only the beginning, and we will remain committed to the issue of cutting health care costs in the years ahead.
Nevertheless, this legislation is an outstanding first step.  Over the next ten years, this bill will reduce America's deficit by $132 billion.  By insuring 95 percent of Americans while reducing the deficit, this legislation achieves what many thought was impossible, and I am proud to have been able to cast my vote in favor of it.  I believe that, as was the case with the creation of Social Security and Medicare, history is on our side.