Oregon is a hot spot for progressive legislation. Suicide is legal for terminally ill patients, abortion restrictions are the lowest in the country and it was the first sanctuary state for illegal immigrants. With all of these in place, it probably does not come as a surprise to learn about a new universal healthcare proposal hitting The Beaver State. Introducing The Oregon Fundamental Right to Healthcare Amendment, House Joint Resolution 203. “HJR 203” for short, would be the first constitutional amendment to mandate healthcare for all in any state.
How is Oregon able to be so progressive?
The Democratic party reigns supreme. They have the trifecta of leadership. A Democratic Governor, Kate Brown and a Democrat-controlled House and Senate. With these in place, it’s easy for a progressive issue to move forward. In the case of HJR 203, the vote split the House down party lines with all 35 Democrats voting for it while all 25 Republicans voted against the amendment.
How does House Joint Resolution 203 work? And what does it say?
House Joint Resolution 203, championed by Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) and supported by roughly 40 co-sponsors in both houses, is at the same time straightforward and yet fairly vague. And, understandably this has raised concerns by some critics. The verbiage in the amendment simply states “It is the obligation of the state to ensure that every resident of Oregon has access to cost-effective, medically appropriate and affordable health care as a fundamental right.” Short and sweet. There is also a nice little lead in that lays out how all Oregonians are entitled to hopes and dreams, and a lack of healthcare infringes on that, dividing the state between the healthy and unhealthy. One can see where the amendment received its nickname, the HOPE Amendment.
Oregon already has one of the lowest rates of uninsured residents in the United States at roughly 5%. Let that sink in – 95% of the people that reside in Oregon have insurance. However, this may change. With the current federal talks to cut back on health care spending. The effort by the current administration to roll back the Affordable Care Act as put in place by President Obama, has Oregon legislatures feeling like now is the time to set a national precedent. They’ve done this before with healthcare.
This past summer, Oregon became the seventh state in the nation to put in place legislation that confirmed healthcare access for all children regardless of status. Senate Bill 558, better known as “Cover All Kids,” increased coverage for kids that are undocumented and fall below the federal poverty line up to 300 percent. The bill also included plans to ensure the benefits reached the most people with community-based outreach working to break through language and cultural barriers.
Who takes issue with HJR 203?
There are a few problems people see with this particular universal health care amendment in Oregon. What is it promising and what financial burdens will this bring on the state? As mentioned, the bill is vague leaving many with questions like how does the state tend to ensure healthcare for everyone? Does this leave the state liable and open for possible litigation?
The amendment states, “access to health care that is effective, medically appropriate and affordable” so Oregon will not be providing the care but instead making sure that it is accessible? And what are the definitions of medically appropriate and how do you determine what is affordable? If it has to be effective what happens when the health care fails? Is it then deemed ineffective making the state liable? Could this open the state up to being sued by residents that aren’t covered?
The League of Women Voters, a fairly progressive organization, is opposed to mandating universal healthcare specifically at the state level first. According to them, it should come top down. They feel passing the HOPE Amendment would cause Oregon to carry all of the financial burden. And, especially with the discussed decreases in federal health care spending that financial burden could be bigger than expected.
The economy in Oregon is doing well, but because of certain budgeting problems in the past, there is a gap. This gap is causing cuts to be made in other areas, for example, education. There has been a rise in tuition costs and jobs cuts in schools. Another example, the same day that House Joint Resolution 203 passed the Oregon House of Representatives, the governor declared addiction to be a public health crisis in Oregon. Gov Kate Brown gave the Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission a September deadline to lay out a plan to help quell the issue. As opioid addiction is on the rise, it gives rise to the number of children in foster care another program Oregon has just expanded. So, the many that are opposed to HJR 203 just aren’t even sure from where the money to fund universal healthcare in Oregon would come.
With all this said, just last month in a special election, Oregon voters approved a tax increase on hospitals, health insurers and managed care companies to support Medicaid costs. Over the next two years, this new tax is set to raise potentially $320 million in healthcare funding. So while some might be against universal healthcare in Oregon, one could look at this last little vote as Oregonians wanting a completely insured state.
Where does the HOPE Amendment go now?
On February 14, 2018, HJRs passed its first Senate reading. You can track the progress of the amendment on Senate Health Care Committee website. If it passes the Oregon Senate, it will be presented to Governor Kate Brown, who has indicated that she will sign in. It will find its way to the general election for a vote on November 6th, 2018 by all Oregonians. It will be interesting to track if this amendment is passed, whether other states would attempt to follow suit or not, and how the intention of the amendment may be implemented practically speaking.
In the meantime, whether you believe that states should mandate healthcare as a fundamental right or not, many Americans are either uninsured, or still can’t afford their medications and health services on their health insurance plans. If you are looking for ways to save on these expenses, Singlecare provides coupons for prescription medications (for drugs ranging from Viagra to Birth Control), as well as offering excellent savings on dental, vision and telehealth visits.