BrewHaHa - It'll make ya sick

T.A. Barnhart

In the past six months, biking accidents have put me in the hospital twice. My body has suffered terribly as a result, but last night, it got worse:

I came down with elephantitis.

Ok, I'm not a doctor, I don't play one on tv, so I have no freaking idea what elephantitis is. But in the epidemic that swept through Backspace last night, my horrifying disease was joined by massive dental failure, mental illness, DDS (Disappearing Doctor Syndrome) and "premium giganticus". No one actually got sick; we were all part of the fun that was the latest version of BrewHaHa, Portland's premier political geek-and-fun fest, sponsored by the Bus Project and the Portland Mercury.

Last night's big show was "Wheel of Misfortune" with a panel of 5 brave and very knowledgeble health professionals. One by one, volunteers from the audience came forward, spun the wheel (which, Matt Davis, the Merc's lead polical writer, assured us, was stolen from the set of The Wheel; no one saw any reason to argue at the uncanny similarities) and were either afflicted with a terrible malady (jesus what is elephantitis?) or found themself otherwise afflicted by the current medical system: premiums rising at 15% a year, no health care providers in rural Oregon, "omfg you think you can get dental with any medical plan? hahaha" and so much more.

At least our make-believe maladies had a wide range of wannabee remedies to choose from. Over the course of the evening's spinnings and sufferings, we heard from health care experts, and one professional, on the array of options that may become the future of health care in Oregon and the nation over the next few years. Here's a quick summary of what the five possible health care options had to say on their behalf as they faced off against a terrifying set of diseases and political obstacles.

Current System

Rocky King, who in his day job is Administrator for the state's Office of Private Health Partnerships, gamely stood in for "The Current System." Health care as we know and, um, know it today. Given that the current system is, as everyone but insurance company CEOs will admit, completely and totally fucked, Rocky did actually find a few grains of possibility. Despite the costs and limited access, health care is available in some form for almost everyone who needs help. The broken system does not mean millions do not have access to health care or are refused the right or opportunity to get that care; Americans do have nearly universal access.

If they can afford it. Which, as Rocky refused to argue, most cannot.

Oregon Health Fund Board Plan

Tom Burns, who works for Rep Mitch Greenlick, the man in charge of bringing health care change to Oregon in this session, represented the plan moving through the Legislature. (The plan his boss is writing.) The plan's biggest selling point, according to Tom, was that of all the reform plans being discussed, on this was going to become reality in a short time. HB 2009 and HB 2116, which comprise the plan, will expand care, both access and the number of providers. It will make possible the delivery of millions of federal dollars. But at no point did Tom assure the crowd of around 100 that the plan would provide universal care -- just a lot more care than is currently available.

(Tom somehow did not see his plan, which won't become law until later in the year, and the Obama plan, which is likely to become law by the end of the year, in the same time-space continuum of "now". That's ok. No one really understands what Greenlick's plan is anyway, apart from "a damn site better than the current system". A good thing.)

Sen Wyden's Plan

The Bus and Merc tried to get someone from Wyden's office to participate, but no one was "available". But local doctor Evan Sorvino (and I know I got your name wrong; sorry, but I wasn't able to confirm a spelling) volunteered at the last minute to represent the Senator's plan. He gave it a good try, focusing on the plan's emphasis to cut costs. The plan is also portable: not tied to a particular employer but following you wherever you work. To promote universal care, the Wyden plan has graduated premiums, from those who pay nothing to those who carry a large load based on income. (In taxes, that's known as progressive.) And there is no exclusion for pre-existing conditions.

There is also no public option under the Wyden plan, and the ads condemning Wyden for "taxing benefits" seem to have had some effect on the young, lefty crowd at Backspace. This was, after the current system, the least popular plan.

Single Payer

On the other hand, this was the most popular. Single-payer means, of course, the complete elimination of the current system: No for-profit health care providers or insurers, and no non-profits. Single-payer becomes the only game in town, answering not to stockholders but citizens. Under single-payer, there are not different plans; there is just the one plan available to all citizens. There are no premiums; everyone pays via taxes. Everyone is covered, everyone has access, and no one is denied.

Ellen Pinney, with the Oregon Health Action Campaign, addressed several aspects of single-payer that often frighten those not familiar with it. Rural areas, she noted, would be likely to gain more health care providers as they would earn equally with providers working in urban settings. Further, single-payer, as a public good without the need to develop a bottom line, would have the resources to grow the workforce, increasing the number of care providers available in all parts of the nation.

Pres Obama's Plan

Betsy Dillner of ˙Health Care for America Now! spoke for the Obama plan, with the gist of that plan rather lost near the end of the program: It's still not written. However, the elements the plan will contain are well-known because Obama has been talking about them for the past two years. Unlike Wyden's plan, the Obama plan would have a public option. No one would be forced into that plan; those people who preferred their current private plan could stay with it. But for those who wanted, or needed, an option to commercial plans, the public option makes available to them the health care they cannot currenly afford.

The President's plan will feature what's being called the "exchange" — where those who need assistance in purchasing either a public or private plan would find the subsidy they need (based on income). Under the Obama plan, you can even get afforadable dental coverage.

There were prizes, too: coffee and free acupuncture.

Americans rank 47th among industrialized nations in the quality of their health care, yet they pay more than twice what other nations pay. Matt Davis, who grew up in England under the National Health Service (NHS), acknowledged that problems exist under Britain's version of single-payer, but he also noted that he received years of care at no cost, and he's healthy today because he had that care available. Ellen Pinney, who spoke with vehemence for single-payer, told me after that other advocates need to recognize there is a road to single-payer but it's not saying "We want single-payer or nothing."

If [the President's public option] plan proves to be the one that more and more people choose ... I think the rest of the system is going to start caving in on itself. And I think that is the road to single-payer.

There's no doubt that the young, groovy and pinko crowd at BrewHaHa are looking forward to the day when single-payer is the American health care system. But it's not going to emerge out of nowhere. People have to get involved and make the changes they want to see happen. To support the Obama plan, said Becky Dilner of HCAN, call Sen Wyden and tell him to get on board.

We're a sick nation in many ways. Our broken health care system only makes those sicknesses worse. Get involved and be part of the cure. And make sure you help fix what's wrong with American politics by showing up at next month's BrewHaHa.

Or Matt Davis will probably be rude to me in the Merc.

Links so you will can get involved

Bus Project
Health Care for America Now!
Archimedes Movement (John Kitzhaber)
Oregon Health Fund Board Plan - call your state legislator
Organizing for America (Obama Plan)
Oregon Health Action Campaign

And don't forget to read the Merc and Blogtown.

  • Brian Collins (unverified)

    A brief summary of HB2009 and 2116: Establishs a 3-5% tax on hospital revenues, which will fund health care for approx. 60,000 adults through the Oregon Health Plan. This replaces an expiring tax that had covered 25,000 adults, resulting in a net reduction of 35,000 uninsured adults. Increases Oregon Health Plan reimbursements to doctors and hospitals so they are equal to Medicare.

    Establishes a 1% tax on individual, small group, and Medicaid managed care insurance premiums to pay for health insurance for 80,000 Oregon children. Goal is to cover almost all of the uninsured children in Oregon.

    Oregon has about 600,000 uninsured. This package would reduce that number by about 115,000.

    HB 2009 also includes a reorganization of State of Oregon agencies related to health care, with provisions to address costs in the near and long term, including trying to coordinate the purchase of health care by state and local governments, introduce innovative payment methods, encourage electronic medical records, and create an all-payer, all-claims database that can be used to research the cost-effectiveness of medical treatments.

    The Oregon Health Fund Board recommended that universal health care be achieved in Oregon through a payroll tax that would take effect in the latter part of the next decade, on the condition that health care costs decrease. The legislature did not take up that idea. Hopefully we will have some sort of federal reform by then.

  • Brian Collins (unverified)

    A brief summary of the Wyden Plan: Phases out employer based health system. Individuals are required to purchase health insurance in a newly regulated marketplace. Plans must offer benefits equivalent to those offered to Members of Congress. Insurers must sell insurance to everyone regardless of prexisting condition (guaranteed issue) and must charge everyone the same price with few exceptions (community rating). Employers would be required to audit their books and provide a raise to all employees equal to the amount they previously spent on health insurance to help individuals afford the individual insurance. Income based subsidies would be available from the government to help lower income people buy insurance. The plan would be paid for by eliminating the tax exclusion for employer provided health care. The plan is budget neutral over the long term.

  • sohbet (unverified)

    thenk youu

  • Mark McGaffin (unverified)

    These are really helpful summaries, Brian. Maybe you know the answer to this, as well. Did the Oregon Health Fund Board recommend anything about offering a public option?

  • Brian Collins (unverified)


    Yes, the Oregon Health Fund Board did recommend that a public option be made available.


  • free mobile phone ringtones (unverified)

    thank you very much indeed

  • free mobile phone ringtones (unverified)

    thank you very much indeed

  • Elaine (unverified)

    Wow! Great article. Good creative way to get the word out, I just wish I had known about it beforehand.

    Brian, thanks for the further information in you posts.

    This is why I visit this site!

  • (Show?)

    Elaine, make sure you get on the Bus' mailing list. the best way to do that is to become a monthly supporter member of the Bus. if you want to see a truly progressive future for Oregon, the Bus is the best way to go. $10/month you will help drive change, drive democracy, drive voters.

  • Fair and Balanced (unverified)

    In the interest of journalistic accuracy, T.A., the disease you're referring to is spelled "elephantiasis" not "elephantitis". The latter spelling would mean that your elephant gland was sick, instead of having a body part that is grossly swollen.

  • riverat (unverified)

    I would call Wyden's plan the bare minimum we could live with. The "no preexisting conditions" clause is essential. My question is does it include anything to reduce the instances of insurance companies denying claims and forcing people to fight with them over things that should be covered?

    The ultimate goal is a non-profit single payer system of some form but it may take a while to get there. Any improvement would be welcome.

  • brigid (unverified)

    Ron Wyden needs to feel some big time heat. He is actively conspiring with Big Pharma lobbyists and Republicans to kill the public option. Here's the evidence:

    "Last night Snowe hosted a private meeting between members and staffers about a new proposal Pharma and Insurance are floating, and apparently she's already gained the tentative support of several Democrats (including Ron Wyden and Thomas Carper). Under Snowe's proposal, the public option would kick in years from now, but it would be triggered only if insurance companies fail to bring down healthcare costs and expand coverage in he meantime."

  • brigid (unverified)

    Appropos to my last comment I strongly urge phone calls to Wyden's offices with the message that Ron needs to stop representing Big Pharma and Corporate Insurance and start representing Oregonians. We need a strong public option to start freeing our health care dollar from corporate profits. He needs to stop obstructing Pres. Obama, Sen. Kennedy, and at least 80 Cong. reps who are record as saying our new health care bill must have a strong public option, or it's no go.

  • Howlin Wolf (unverified)

    The so-called "public option" is as bankrupt a proposal as the Wyden plan or the witch doctor plan (although, of the three, I prefer the latter).

    The new dear leader is attempting to manufacture another bailout for the rich and powerful, which is what the "public option" really is (Dennis Kucinich: This Is A Hoax! It Is A Swindle! Wake Up America!:

    "Public option" proselytizing has been refuted by most single payer advocates, including Physicians for a National Health Plan ( activists like Dr. Rick Staggenborg of Coos Bay, who recently wrote:

    "The only proposals being seriously considered are bailouts to the failing health insurance industry. One is a neutered 'public option' designed to not be competitive with these inefficient insurers. The other is Wyden’s ambitious yet fatally flawed proposal to provide 'the same level of care as members of Congress receives' through these same inefficient insurance providers who are on the brink of bankruptcy without massive taxpayer cash infusions. This is the only reason they are negotiating for 'reform.' No wonder it is the only proposal thus far with bipartisan support.

    "It is time for Oregonians to tell our elected officials that they represent us, not corporations. There is overwhelming support for single payer now, not another corporate bailout. If, like me, you are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore, let them know!"

    The Blumenauer/Dean "town hall" yesterday succeeded once again in marginalizing the majority, refusing entry to a large group of single-payer advocates in spite of the fact that many seats were empty. Tickets were given to party elites and refused to the rest, contempt for democracy of the most obvious sort.

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