Oregon Legislature Seriously Looking at Universal Health Care

Like Washington State and California, the Oregon Legislature is taking a serious look at implementing a universal healthcare system to provide health insurance for all Oregonians.

A bill to set up the Universal Health Plan Governance Board to set the program up — SB 1089 — has passed the Senate Rules Committee and has been sent to the Joint Ways and Means Committee.

Along with other organizations and individuals, PIA Oregon opposes the legislation that establishes a single-payer healthcare system in Oregon.

An amendment to Senate Bill 1089 establishing the governance board passed and orders the board to “identify strategies that allow employers the choice to continue offering benefits, establish a revenue system in which employers would contribute to the cost of health care for all Oregonians while retaining the flexibility to offer self-funded health plans to employees.”

PIA Oregon agrees with National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Oregon director, Anthony Smith who says, if implemented, universal healthcare in Oregon will be too expensive to be feasible.

“During its work on the proposal, the Task Force considered two new taxes to pay for the program: an employer payroll tax designed to generate $12.85 billion per year and a personal income tax (in addition to the existing state personal income tax Oregonians already pay) designed to generate $8.5 billion per year, for a total of $21.35 billion in new taxes per year,” Smith said. “This would place an unprecedented tax burden on all employers, including the smallest of small businesses, and increase middle class income tax rates to among the highest in the nation.”

Kris Hathaway is the vice president, state affairs for the America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP). She says a recent poll shows setting up a single-payer healthcare system is not a hot button for most Oregonians. Instead, they want the Legislature to work on what’s working in Oregon.

“Even more voters report they are unwilling to pay more for health care to create a new government health insurance system,” Hathaway wrote in her testimony to the Senate Rules Committee. “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. Efforts to enact a single-payer health care system on a state level have proved unworkable. States that have attempted to enact statewide government-run health care systems have found them impossible to implement on a state level.”

Smith agrees and says the Legislature would be better off fixing the current system rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.

“This committee’s efforts would be better directed towards identifying innovative, affordable, and responsible ways to provide coverage options for the relatively small number of Oregonians who are still uninsured, not moving forward with a Governance Board whose final product would be irrelevant without a $20 billion per year tax that will force thousands of small businesses to close or relocate out of state,” he said.

Katie Koenig of Oregon Business & Industry echoed the thoughts of Smith and Hathaway.

“Such tax increases would be particularly harmful to employers given recent trends. According to our recent tax study, Oregon’s state business tax burden has increased nearly 45% in recent years, and local taxes have added to the burden in and around Portland,” Koenig told the committee. “Currently, Portland’s combined state and local marginal rate for individual taxpayers trails only New York City’s. Businesses in Oregon, particularly small businesses, are struggling with inflation and other macroeconomic factors in addition to the state’s rapidly increasing tax burden. Creating a single-payer health care system would add significantly to the cost of doing business in Oregon.”

She also noted — as did Hathaway — that a better idea would be to fix what’s broken and not establish something totally new.

“More than 95% of Oregonians are covered by some form of insurance, and we believe it would be more prudent to focus attention on less disruptive ways to provide coverage to the small percentage of Oregonians currently without it,” Koenig wrote to the Senate Rules Committee.

Weekly Industry News asked PIA Oregon Lobbyist Lana Butterfield what will happen with this bill in the Joint Ways and Means Committee. She couldn’t say but noted similar proposals have died in the committee in previous sessions of the Oregon Legislature.

About PIA Western Alliance

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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