The quest for health care for all is the issue that brought me into politics and the issue that keeps me here.  It is the number one domestic concern of voters in my district in Wisconsin and, I daresay, throughout the country.

Today, in the House I am reintroducing, along with Reps. Price (R-GA) and Tierney (D-MA), the Health Partnership Through Creative Federalism Act, a bill that moves us closer to ensuring health care for all.  In the Senate, Senators Bingaman (D-NM) and Voinovich (R-OH) are reintroducing companion legislation, the Health Partnership Act.  Our bills support and encourage the states’ response to insuring everyone.  Just last week Governor Schwarzenegger made a proposal to insure all Californians. We’ve seen bold new initiatives either proposed or put into place in Mr. Tierney’s state of Massachusetts, in Senator Bingaman’s state of New Mexico, in Maine, Illinois, and my home state of Wisconsin.   Our bills allow the federal government to be a helpful partner to states which are already taking the lead and making reforms and to states that want to initiate reforms but need federal assistance to do so.

While there are many health care reform bills on the table, including my own preference for a single payer plan, it’s clear to me, and has been for some time, that no single approach has enough support to become law.

Seven decades have passed since the first bill calling for national health insurance was introduced.  The contentiousness in past Congresses has been a serious impediment to progress.  In the meantime, patients and their families across the country are paying a high price, both financially and emotionally.

I’ve been working on this since I first took office, holding numerous discussions with Members on both sides of the aisle; but it was last session that I found Dr. Price and, along with Mr. Tierney and our former colleague Bob Beauprez of Colorado, we came together in a concentrated working group and spent hours discussing health care and various reform approaches. Imagine the difficulty in getting four members in the same room at the same time, let alone discussing health care reform for hours on end late into the night or early in the morning.

We, and our able staffs, sought the advice of health care policy experts from liberal and conservative think tanks and representatives of the governors across this nation.  This kind of collaboration, in these partisan times is rare, gratifying, and another sign of meaningful progress. And while we were working hard in the House, I know that Senators Bingaman and Voinovich were overcoming similar obstacles on the Senate side.

The federal government should be helping the states as they try new approaches, not hindering them.  But, this bill does not throw a bunch of money at the problem of the uninsured.  We’re looking for systemic change and encouraging innovation.

Our bill authorizes grants to individual states, or groups or portions of states, to enact the strategy best suited for them. Under our plan, states have a lot of freedom to think creatively and independently.

Our current system is clearly failing the more than 47 million uninsured and the millions more who are underinsured.  Health care costs are responsible for 50% of personal bankruptcies.  We need to try new approaches because what we have simply is not working.  This is an idea whose time has come; it is bold; bipartisan; and budget-friendly.

They say that politics makes strange bedfellows and there’s no better example of that than the fact that Dr. Price, an honorable conservative from Georgia, and I, a proud progressive from Wisconsin, and Mr. Tierney were able to find common purpose and work together on this critical issue.   There’s no denying that while we agree on the end result, we have strong differences on the best means to that end.  But that’s exactly why this legislation shows so much promise.