Oregon Legislature Moves Toward Universal Healthcare

The Oregon Legislature’s Senate Committee on Health Care has begun the process of setting up universal healthcare for Oregon’s citizenry. The idea began in 2019 when the Legislature set up the Joint Task Force on Universal Health.

That task force was headed by Dr. Bruce Goldberg.

Senate Bill 704 has been introduced to set up the Universal Health Plan Governance Board. If the bill passes, the board will be charged with creating a plan to implement universal health care in Oregon by 2027.

On Monday of this week, the committee started taking testimony on the establishment of that board and on moving forward with the plan set forth by the Legislature in 2019. Organizers were able to get a huge number of people to sign up to testify in support of the plan.

Among them was Dr. Goldberg. He said Oregon’s current healthcare system is, “unsustainable.”

Opponents — like America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) — say it is the plan for universal healthcare that is unsustainable. AHIP spokeswoman, Kris Hathaway said, at the very least, the plan is unaffordable. In her testimony, Hathaway said people want to see legislators work on making what’s already working, better.

“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. We should focus on improving what’s working while fixing what’s broken to lower costs and expand access to affordable, high-quality coverage for everyone.”

She pointed out that the several states trying to implement a universal healthcare system have found them to be unaffordable. Hathaway said most Oregonians do not want to see an increase in taxes to pay for a universal healthcare system.

“In California, the Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated that enacting a single-payer system in California could cost around $400 billion annually and require new state tax revenues in the low hundreds of billions of dollars,” she said. “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.”

Health insurers Regency, Kaiser Permanente, Aetna, Moda Health, PacificSource, CVS Health and Providence Health & Services sent a letter to committee chair, Sen. Deb Patterson and the rest of the committee.

The insurers also focused on the cost of the program.

“We write to express concerns with creating a Governance Board and continuing to move forward with development of a single-payer system divorced from a real discussion of the state’s inability to fund such an ambitious proposal and the myriad of other major challenges to enacting a single-payer system,” the letter said. “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.”

In other words, the seven insurers said there is just no basis to think this will work.

“Offering all Oregon residents a one-size-fits-all government-run insurance system, while doubling their tax payments, is not a realistic solution,” the insurers continued. “When paired with the work to create a basic health plan for low-income Oregonians and address our state’s homelessness and behavioral health crisis, the state does not have the capacity or resources to undertake continued exploration of a single-payer system.”

The insurers said to fund such a system, Oregon would have to raise more than $20 billion. That’s close to the state’s current biennial budget.

“Without unilateral support that this is the direction for Oregon, we should not waste additional time and resources if there is no expectation that the legislative body or electorate would vote to increase taxes this much,” the insurers concluded.

In his testimony, Dr. Goldberg said the state needs to fix a broken healthcare system.

“Sadly, our current health care system is financially unsustainable, harmfully complex, and socially unjust,” Goldberg told the committee. “Health care in Oregon is inequitably delivered. Too many Oregonians, because of their race, age, income, geography, or insurance, endure vastly different health care access, varied health care quality, and wide-ranging health outcomes.”

In addition to medical care, Golberg said the benefits to be provided will include behavioral, 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,” his written statement said. “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.”

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