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Over the course of the last hundred years, there have been several defining pieces of legislation that have helped shape our society and benefited millions of people – legislation such as the Social Security Act in 1935 to Medicare in 1965, or the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. Now families, individuals and small businesses will remember 2010 as the year health care reform was passed and we were able to deliver a huge victory for Montanans and people across the nation.

After working for nearly two years on this bill, holding dozens of hearings and listening sessions across the state, and talking with thousands of Montanans, we finally passed legislation that will ensure quality, affordable health care. This legislation will benefit people across the spectrum. From small-business owners to those without insurance. From seniors to young adults. From state governments to the federal government, this is one of the most important and beneficial pieces of legislation ever passed.

Here is just snapshot of some the provisions:

n Small-business tax credits: Montana is a small-business state and many small-business owners want to provide their employees with health care benefits, but they just can’t afford it. More than 24,000 businesses in Montana will be eligible for these tax credits, which will help many small businesses and will help provide well deserved benefits to hard-working employees.

n Reducing the federal deficit: Everyone knows we have to tighten our fiscal belt and reduce our federal deficit. And I am fully committed to looking at every common-sense way to cut back spending. By making our health care system more efficient and reducing waste, the legislation we passed will reduce the deficit by more than $130 billion in the first 10 years and up to $1 trillion in the following 10 years. That is huge savings for our government.

n Preventing insurance company discrimination: Right now, insurance companies use a wide variety of abusive practices that hurt consumers. They deny coverage because folks had been sick before. They take away coverage when people need it most. They charge women astronomical rates just on the basis of gender. These practices are just plain wrong and this legislation puts an end to them.

n Providing coverage to those without insurance: In the greatest nation on earth, it is unimaginable that many are left on the outside looking in on the best medical care in the world. In Montana, more than 150,000 people don’t have health insurance. This legislation will provide coverage to Montanans and Americans, help making it a foundation of the American dream.

n Helping seniors with prescription drugs: In Montana, more than 160,000 seniors rely on Medicare for their health coverage. And unfortunately, too many of these seniors are faced with an unthinkable dilemma: should I spend money on food or prescription drugs? That is why I fought so hard to make sure that this legislation would make prescription drugs more affordable. Right now, many seniors are caught in what is called the “doughnut hole,” which is basically a gap in how prescription drugs are paid for through Medicare. This legislation will close this gap so seniors will be able to afford the drugs that they need and deserve.

n Tax credits for individuals: For many hardworking Montanans, health care coverage is just out of reach financially. This legislation will provide tax credits to help them get coverage.

I’ve had the distinct honor and privilege of serving the people of Montana for more than 30 years. During that time, we have been able to advance many pieces of legislation that helped our state – legislation that created jobs, protected our outdoors, provided health care for kids and cut taxes for hardworking Montanans. But nothing has compared to this – this legislation will benefit just about every person in our state, it will cut our federal deficit and it will be a cornerstone for generations to build on. Working together, we were able to deliver a major victory for Montana and the nation.

Sen. Max Baucus is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and one of the key architects of the health care reform bill.

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