Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) are preparing to reintroduce a unique health care bill that would poll the American public on what benefits they want provided, the kind of health coverage they want and how they are willing to pay for that coverage. Unlike health bills of the past, this bill would be drafted from the bottom up with ordinary citizens given a primary role in how it is created.

Wyden's Washington, D.C. Press Secretary Carol Guthrie describes congressional attempts at health care over the past 60 years as a matter of proposals being put together by politicians followed by squabbles and changes made to the original draft to make it unrecognizable. "Then nothing ever came out of the legislation," she adds.

"The idea of the Wyden-Hatch bill is to give people in America a chance to weigh in before special interests have a chance to shred the process," says Guthrie.

Wyden told Congress last December, after first introducing the bill in October, that $1.4 trillion was being spent annually in the United States on health care. He computed that to be $18,000 annually for every family of four in America. "With all this money, and so much talent and creativity in America, shouldn't it be possible to create a health system that works for everyone," said Wyden at that time.

To help generate a "nationwide public debate" on health care issues, the bill would create a 26 member Citizens' Health Care Working Group comprised of citizens from all walks of life ranging from the disabled and insured individuals to representatives with pharmaceutical interests and those lacking insurance. Acting under the title of The Health Care That Works For All Americans Act, the working group would be given 180 days to conduct hearings and both prepare and distribute a "Health Report to the American People."

Over the next six months the Working Group would conduct town hall meetings all over the United States, in both rural and urban settings, to determine what the people want in health care, costs of what they want and who should foot the bill for the coverage.

From what they have learned from those town hall meetings the working group would then have 180 days to draft recommendations to Congress and the President for health care reform. A 90 day period of public comment would precede the actual presentation to the legislative assembly.

The Wyden-Hatch bill, which was first introduced to the U.S. Senate Oct. 7, 2002, has already been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and the American Association of Retired Persons.

One segment of the bill emphasized by Guthrie is in the final section where, six months after the bill is introduced, any senator can bring the bill up for a vote on the Senate floor. She contrasts this with other health bills in the past which have become mired in conflict and never come to a vote. She cites 1994 during the Clinton Administration as the most recent example.

The importance of health care in this country can be underscored with the fact that 40 million Americans are currently uninsured.

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