Oregon Legislature Authorizes a Universal Health Plan

Oregon now joins Washington, California and a few other, more liberal states, in pursuing universal healthcare for its citizenry. 

Just before the Oregon Legislature adjourned a week or so ago, it passed a bill setting up a Universal Health Plan Governance Board. The board is tasked with creating a comprehensive plan to finance and administer universal health for all Oregonians.

The plan originally began when the Legislature set up a task force and started exploring the idea in 2019. A positive report to this legislative session got a bill passed at the end of the session to fund the committee.

The committee must be put the plan together by September 15, 2026. So they have awhile to get the job done.

PIA Oregon Lobbyist Lana Butterfield and PIA Oregon’s government affairs committee don’t think it will ever happen. “We think universal health care is a pie-in-the-sky idea,” she told Weekly Industry News, “It is probably doomed to fail.”

Kris Hathaway is the vice president, state affairs America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP). Her organization — like many — opposes the idea. She warns establishing universal healthcare will mean higher taxes for hard-pressed Oregonians and will not give them better access to health care, nor better care once they get it.

“A recent poll shows that an increasing majority of voters prefer building on what’s working in health care, earning more support than any government-run health care proposal,” she said. “Even more voters report they are unwilling to pay more for health care to create a new government health insurance system.”

The best bet — Hathaway notes — would be to build on what currently exists and help lower costs and giving higher-quality coverage from what we have now.

“Oregon has done a tremendous amount of work to ensure patients get access to timely, quality care,” she said. “Imposing a single-payer health care system could actually harm these existing consumer protections. We must focus on filling the gaps in the current health care system, including investing in workforce development and increasing access to care in rural areas, but this bill does nothing to address those issues.”

Hathaway also noted the other states working on the issue — like Vermont — found that higher taxes are a big price to pay for something that isn’t all that workable.

“Sponsors of their failed single-payer legislation proposed new excise taxes, payroll taxes, and personal income taxes to pay for their program, with no data to show that the proposal could even be implemented or would save money,” she said. “Enacting a single-payer system would also mean the loss of thousands of jobs from Oregon’s economy. Health plans employ over 13,000 Oregonians and more than an additional 10,000 Oregonians are employed in insurance-related jobs. These are good, stable jobs that would no longer exist if a single-payer system be implemented.”

Health insurers, Regency, Kaiser Permanente, Aetna, Moda Health, PacificSource, CVS Health and Providence Health & Services are among the companies providing those 13,000 jobs. They sent a letter to the committee.

The bottom-line in the letter was that the one-size-fits-all solution is unaffordable and unworkable.

“It attempts to do too much, ignores significant the legal and financial challenges, and has no precedent of success by any individual state in the Union,” the letter said. “Given the experience of other states, and dynamics specific to Oregon, there is no basis upon which to think such a program would be successful. In a state with a largely unstable tax-base and the inability to run a deficit, a program like single-payer health care is financially irresponsible.”

Oregon Senator Kim Thatcher is a Republican opposing the creation of a universal healthcare plan. She agrees with the health insurers and said the proposal could cost taxpayers as much as $54 billion a year — or more.

“Beyond its sheer costs, building such a system would be a massive, complex, and unprecedented endeavor, and we have every reason to doubt and little reason to trust the state will get it right,” she told Oregon Catalyst. “That, and like any other state agency, government-run healthcare has its own inherent set of problems — like long-wait times, decreased health care quality, and rationing of care — which are seen both right here in our country and abroad and warn us about the future implications of such a system.”

“For context, Oregon’s 2021-23 biennium budget is about 112 billion, and proposed new business payroll and personal income taxes to fund it. In a state that already has some of the highest taxes in the country, these two new taxes mean Oregonians could expect an almost 20-billion-dollar tax increase in the system’s first year of implementation.”

As noted, Thatcher has zero trust that the state government can actually implement such an ambitious plan.

“Take the failure of the Cover Oregon health exchange website, for instance. The project, which intended to create an online health insurance marketplace for Oregonians, failed in part due to the state’s own problems, such as feuding bureaucracies and technical incompetence, and culminated in a bitter 25-million-dollar legal fight,” she said. “Beyond that, delays in the state’s delivery of unemployment checks during state-mandated lockdowns, as well as in promised Measure 110 addiction treatment funds while addiction rates continue to soar, show Oregon has a chronic problem in overpromising and underdelivering. Are we really going to trust the state that can’t even create a health exchange website to run a system as novel, massive, and complex as universal health care?”

The logic escapes supporters like Dr. Bruce Goldberg. They say the time has come. In his testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Goldberg said the plan needs to take care of all healthcare and that includes behavioral health, vision, hearing and dental care.

“It eliminates the need for premiums and out of pocket costs such as deductibles and co-pays and allows providers to bill only one entity thereby dramatically reducing administrative costs,” Goldberg told the committee. “Under the Task Force’s plan Oregonians can seek services from any provider in the state. And by establishing a single payment system it promotes equitable access to care by putting an end to a structurally inequitable payment system in which provider payments were based on the source of payment.”

Goldberg contends the plan will cost Oregonians far less they they are currently paying.

Source link: Oregon Catalyst — https://bit.ly/3XB2J5m

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The Professional Insurance Agents Western Alliance is a membership organization promoting and enhancing the success of independent agencies seeking to grow, learn and be heard within the industry.


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