By Chris Greiveldinger of Portland, Oregon. Chris is a software engineer and member of the Beaverton chapter of the Archimedes Movement.
Health care reform efforts are percolating around the nation this year, and Oregon is home to one of the most innovative proposals, the Oregon Better Health Act (SB 27) from the Archimedes Movement. A rally in support of SB 27 was held at the State Capitol yesterday, once again demonstrating the support that Oregonians are willing to give to bold policy measures. Before discussing the Oregon Better Health Act, it's important to acknowledge two other notable state-level health reform proposals in Oregon.
There has already been discussion at BlueOregon about Governor Kulongoski's Oregon Healthy Kids Plan (HB 2201). The Healthy Kids Plan has the admirable goal of bringing health coverage to more children, but there is resistance to using an increase in the tobacco tax to fund the plan. The bigger problem is that the expansion in coverage is only incremental, and adults are entirely omitted.
Senator Alan Bates and Senator Ben Westlund have proposed Senate Bill 329, which requires health insurance for all individuals. The state will cover those earning less than 250% of the poverty level, and others will have to pay a premium. SB 329 will get insurance coverage to everyone, but it will get there by utilizing the current health care system, notably relying on private health insurance plans and Medicare.
The first two proposals basically answer the question, “How can we use our current system to provide better health coverage for Oregonians?” Under the leadership of Governor John Kitzhaber, the Archimedes Movement asks the more radical question, “How can we use our current public health care funds to build a new system to provide better health coverage for Oregonians?” The Oregon Better Health Act is the answer to that question.
SB 27 seeks waivers to get health care funds from Medicaid, Medicare, and the value of tax incentives supporting employer-sponsored coverage. As Governor Kitzhaber recently wrote in the Oregonian, involving Medicare in the plan is essential, because as the baby boom generation ages Medicare comes under great strain.
In addition to seeking waivers, SB 27 proposes several principles to be considered when defining the core health benefit that will be provided by the plan. Notice that the legislation does not propose what that core benefit should be, nor does it prevent individuals from purchasing additional coverage from private insurers if they desire. The core benefit will be defined through a public process after the legislation is enacted, thus giving Oregon the flexibility to restructure the health care system. SB 27 lays the foundation for implementing a better health care system.
Finally, I should mention this intriguing quote from Senator Bates in the OPB article about the rally.
“We sat down with the Governor and others and worked out a plan that we're going to amalgamate these two bills and get the best out of the both of them.”
I'm optimistic that with this willingness to work together Oregon will lead the way for the nation on true health care reform.