Greetings! I wanted to take a minute and give you an update on the current status of health care reform in the Senate. But, before I begin, I want to commend you all for keeping the pressure on your Representatives and Senators to support a public health insurance option. It's important that your voice is heard during this critical debate about how to reform our broken health care system.

Today we took a monumental step in the fight for real health care reform. The Affordable Health Choices Act passed through the Senate Health Committee. I can't tell you how proud I am to be able to work with my colleagues on legislation that will literally affect the lives of millions of American families.

This bill will help rein in the runaway health care costs that are bankrupting families and businesses. It will give Americans the peace of mind of knowing that they are no longer one pink slip away from losing coverage. It will make it illegal for insurance companies to charge people more or turn them away just because they're sick or older. Combined with the work that is being done by the Senate Finance Committee, 97 percent of Americans will have coverage. People who like their current coverage will be able to keep it, and everyone will have more choices and access to affordable coverage, no matter their lot in life. And importantly, it includes a robust public option. This bill represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix our broken health care system.

Two weeks ago, while traveling in Oregon, I held a town hall meeting with constituents in Hermiston, in the conservative eastern part of the state. Folks were concerned about a number of issues, ranging from climate legislation to immigration reform, but no issue was more prominent than health care. At that town hall, I decided to take an informal poll to see what people believed was the best way to fix our broken health care system. Overwhelmingly, those in attendance supported a health care plan that included both public and private options.

Providing a public health insurance option will reduce costs, create much needed competition and give Americans more health care choices. I know that the public health insurance option is at the center of the debate, but I also wanted to take a minute and talk about other important issues that we tackled in the HELP committee.

We can have the best health insurance options in the world and people still won't get needed care if we don't increase our supply of primary care physicians and nurses. The HELP bill strengthens our provider networks by establishing a loan repayment program for allied health professionals, nurses, pediatric subspecialists, and providers of mental and behavioral health services for children. We worked to increase funding for the National Health Service Corps which provides scholarships to medical students who choose to work in areas facing doctor and nursing shortages.

The HELP plan also contains a major investment in increasing the number of nurse faculty nationwide. This is critically important because we face a looming nursing shortage. Besides providing loan repayment opportunities for nurses, we increased the amount of grants and loans nursing schools currently receive so they have the needed funds to compensate more nursing faculty members.

There are thousands of capable Americans who would pursue a degree in nursing if we had room in our schools for them. More instructors will mean more nurses, and as someone who's married to a nurse, I know firsthand how important nurses are to the quality of patient care. That's why I'm also working on an amendment to create a grant program to enhance nurse training programs.

I am also working to lower the cost of insurance for business owners. It's time to level the playing field for small business owners and give them the same health care choices that large corporations have. Because they don't have as many employees, they have little ability to negotiate lower rates. Since insurance premiums have skyrocketed in recent years, many small business owners are unable to afford the high cost of health insurance.

I introduced an amendment to the HELP bill which was passed by the committee. The legislation will enable small businesses to gain access to more affordable health care coverage for their employees by guaranteeing that businesses with 50 employees can participate in the newly created health insurance "gateway" or exchange. Employees will benefit by being able to choose from a variety of plans, and have peace of mind knowing they can keep their plan if they lose or change jobs. Allowing small business owners to buy into a larger risk pool which will help to improve quality and reduce overall costs.

Too many Americans who are uninsured or under-insured do not receive regular checkups because they can't afford coverage or their insurance doesn't cover enough of the costs. The lack of preventive care results in countless emergency room visits and health care disasters for families. The HELP bill includes a sustained national investment in prevention and public health programs and provides coverage of preventive services and the elimination of co-pays and deductibles for many vital health screenings. By elevating prevention efforts, we save billions of dollars while dramatically improving the health of the American people.

Over sixty years ago, President Harry Truman addressed Congress and said, "Millions of our citizens do not have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health care. Millions do not now have protection or security against the economic effects of sickness. The time has arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and that protection."

As I look back at Truman's historic call for action, I'm reminded that we're facing our own pivotal moment in history. Twenty years from now we'll look back at this seminal opportunity and ask ourselves whether we rose to the challenge. We'll ask whether we stuck with the status quo: a health care system that drains wealth from our country and leave millions of Americans behind. Or, did we answer the overwhelming call of the American people to reform our health care system by improving care, lowering costs and making health care work for all Americans? History is watching - we need to make the right choice.

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post