by Alan F. Zundel
Health Care for All Oregon (HCAO) is a citizens’ group that has been working for several years to bring publicly-funded health insurance to all Oregonians. The Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress in 2010, provided the opportunity for this by allowing waivers for states to set up their own health insurance systems, provided they cover the same number of people with the same level of benefits as under the ACA.
HCAO has managed to get a study funded and is developing a bill to create a single-payer system in Oregon. “Single-payer” means that instead of having a confusing maze of multiple health insurance plans, both private and public as we currently have, the state would provide health insurance that covers everyone. HCAO is aiming to put an initiative on the ballot in 2020 to create a single-payer system.
State-run single-payer systems are essential to the larger goal of bringing a single-payer system to the entire nation, such as the “Medicare for All” concept promoted by Senator Bernie Sanders. While a bill in the U.S. Congress can continue to keep the concept in the public eye and give supporters a rallying point, it is unlikely to pass a Republican President or a Congress dominated by Republicans. (Not to mention the fact that Congressional Democrats aren’t all on board with it either.) But if the concept can be shown to work in one or more states, the prospects for a national system will greatly improve.
HCAO wants the state legislature to refer their initiative to the ballot so that they don’t have to spend a lot of time and money gathering the thousands of signatures that would otherwise be needed. This raises the question: If the legislature could be persuaded to refer such an initiative to the ballot, why wouldn’t they be willing to simply pass it into law themselves rather than having the voters decide it?
There are two ways to answer this question. One is that legislators might like the idea of a single-payer system but feel that such a big change should be decided by the voters themselves. The other is that legislators prefer to pass the buck to spare themselves the heat from private health insurance lobbyists. I suspect the second is closer to the truth.
It is predictable that private health insurance companies will oppose a single-payer system, as it essentially would put them out of business. Other powerful players that now profit from people’s health care needs, such as pharmaceutical companies, would also oppose it. These opponents are going to rally their formidable resources against a single-payer system whether via a bill passed by the legislature or an initiative passed by the voters.
If you were a legislator, would you rather have them threatening your reelection prospects or aiming their fire at defeating an initiative? The question answers itself. An initiative gives a double bonus for legislators. Not only do they escape the direct wrath of opponents of a single-payer system, but if an initiative is defeated they can say, “You see, the voters didn’t want this anyway.”
It’s up to us as voters to pressure our legislators to support a single-payer system. Preferably they’d pass a bill themselves, but if we don’t actively engage them they may not take any action at all.
A bill in the recently ended legislative session, SB1046, would have set up a state board to develop, implement and oversee a single-payer system in Oregon. It got stuck in the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which failed to act on it before the session ended.
The bill was co-sponsored by 8 out of 17 Democratic state senators and 24 of 35 Democratic state representatives. (No Republicans were co-sponsors.) If you live in one of their districts, please contact the co-sponsors to thank them for their support for the bill and encourage them to continue to actively support a single-payer system. They are:
- Sen. Michael Dembrow, chief co-sponsor (District 23, Portland)
- Sen. Lew Frederick, chief co-sponsor (22, Portland)
- Sen. James Manning, Jr., chief co-sponsor (7, Eugene and Junction City)
- Sen. Rod Monroe (24, Portland)
- Sen. Floyd Prozanski (4, Eugene)
- Sen. Chuck Riley (15, Hillsboro)
- Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (17, Portland and Beaverton)
- Sen. Kathleen Taylor (21, Milwaukie)
- Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, chief co-sponsor (District 46, Portland)
- Rep. Chris Gorsek, chief co-sponsor (49, Troutdale)
- Rep. Jeff Barker (28, Aloha)
- Rep. Phil Barnhart (11, central Lane and Linn Counties)
- Rep. Deborah Boone (32, Cannon Beach)
- Rep. Margaret Doherty (35, Tigard)
- Rep. Julie Fahey (14, Eugene and Junction City)
- Rep. David Gomberg (10, central coast)
- Rep. Ken Helm (34, Washington County)
- Rep. Diego Hernandez (47, Portland)
- Rep. Paul Holvey (8, Eugene)
- Rep. John Lively (12, Springfield)
- Rep. Sheri Malstron (27, Beaverton)
- Rep. Pam Marsh (5, Ashland)
- Rep. Rob Nosse (42, Portland)
- Rep. Carla Piluso (50, Gresham)
- Rep. Karin Power (41, Milwaukie)
- Rep. Dan Rayfield (16, Corvallis)
- Rep. Jeff Reardon (48, Happy Valley)
- Rep. Tawna Sanchez (43, Portland)
- Rep. Barbara Smith Warner (45, Portland)
- Rep. Jennifer Williamson (36, Portland)
- Rep. Brad Witt (31, Clatskanie)
- (Rep. Ann Lininger of District 38, Lake Oswego, resigned from office in August)
If your state senator or representative is not on the above list, contact them to ask them why they did not support the Oregon single-payer bill.
Also important to contact would be the members of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which had jurisdiction over the bill but failed to take any action on it. The members of the committee who did not co-sponsor the bill are:
- Sen. Richard Devlin, co-chair (Democrat, District 19, Tualatin)
- Rep. Nancy Nathanson, co-chair (Democrat, 13, Eugene)
- Sen. Betsy Johnson, vice-chair (Democrat, 16, Scappoose)
- Rep. Greg Smith, vice chair (Republican, 57, north central Oregon)
- Rep. Jackie Winters, vice-chair (Republican, 10, Salem)
- Sen. Alan DeBoer, (Republican, 3, )
- Sen. Fred Girod (Republican, 9, Stayton)
- Sen. Bill Hansell (Republican, 29, Athena)
- Sen. Arnie Roblan (Democrat, 5, Coos Bay)
- Sen. Chuck Thomsen (Republican, 26, Hood River)
- Rep. John Huffman (Republican, 59, the Dalles)
- Rep. Mike McLane (Republican, 55, Powell Butte)
- Rep. Duane Stark (Republican, 4, Grants Pass)
- Rep. Gene Whisnant (Republican, 53, Sunriver)
Contact them and urge them to support single-payer health care in Oregon.
(Senators Frederick, Manning, Monroe, and Steiner Hayward, and Representatives Gomberg, Holvey, Rayfield, Smith Warner, and Williamson were both on the committee and co-sponsors of the bill.)