NU Online News Service, Jan. 15, 1:01 p.m. — Washington

Two leading senators are preparing bipartisan legislation that would create a commission to develop a comprehensive health care reform plan.

Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, say they will shortly introduce the “Health Care That Works for All Americans Act.”

If enacted, the legislation will establish a Citizens’ Health Care Working Group that will conduct meetings across the country seeking public input on what people want in terms of health care reform and what they are willing to pay for.

The working group will write a report to Congress. The relevant congressional committees will then be given six months to develop legislation that reflects the conclusions of the report.

If the committees fail to act within six months, any member of Congress could force a vote.

In a recent speech at the National Press Club, Wyden said the time for the legislation is now.

“I believe Congress has the best opportunity it has had in years to enact meaningful health reform,” he said.

For one thing, Wyden said, the new Senate leader, Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has a longstanding interest in health policy.

Moreover, he said, the public is fed up with inaction on issues that should have been resolved years ago, and there is growing evidence that the need for broad reform is urgent.

Wyden said the legislation must be moved quickly if health care reform is not to get lost in the crush of congressional business.

“I believe the heavy lifting must be done in the first six months of the 108th Congress,” he said.

It is difficult, Wyden said, to get action on health issues during the last months of a session, adding that by the August recess, another presidential campaign will be under way.

Wyden said the goal of the legislation is to let the American people know that, with one-seventh of the economy on the line, their voices will be heard first on health care reform, not as an afterthought.

Reforming health care will require tough choices, the senator said.

“I’m convinced that if the Congress gives the public the facts, people will be willing to think hard about a system that literally means life or death to them, and then make the difficult choices that are necessary,” he said.

But there is no time to waste, Wyden said.

“Implementing broad health care reform is not something you are going to get done in a week,” he said.

But, Wyden said, if Congress does not pass reform soon, there is no way that the country will be ready for all the baby boomers that will need more and improved health care as they age.

Three major, Washington-based groups that rarely agree on health care issues?the American Association of Retired Persons, the AFL-CIO and the United States Chamber of Commerce?all announced support for the Wyden-Hatch legislation in a joint statement.