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2nd Wednesday Speaker Series Recap: The Oregon Trail to UHC

By Marcia Stedman

Washington and Oregon are the front-runners among the 22 U.S. states with active state-based universal health care movements.  There are similarities. Both WA and OR have a dedicated core group of volunteers, who have met with Legislators and organized evidence-based public meetings and events for nearly 30 years.  In 2019, both states established entities that met for several years to study the costs and benefits of providing universal publicly funded health care to their residents.  Each state found that a publicly funded and administered system would provide healthcare to all their residents and simultaneously save $1 Billion or more annually  in health care costs.  But there is a big difference. Three years later, Washington’s UHCC is still deliberating over whether to recommend such a system for their residents, while Oregon’s Task Force voted last year to recommend the creation of a non-profit public corporation focussed on start-up activities that would set up their system.

We wanted to find out how Oregon was able to make the progress it did in a few short years, so we invited two members of the Oregon Task Force on Universal Health Care and the President of Health Care for All-Oregon to tell us about their work at our April 12th Speaker Series event.  

John Santa, a retired physician, gave us the basics as he explained how the Task Force benefited from: 

  • Clear direction from the Legislature (SB 770).  The bill language specifically required a publicly funded system. The Task Force was charged with recommending a universal health care system that offers equitable, affordable, comprehensive, high quality health care to all Oregon residents.

  • Staff, consultant, and agency responsiveness

  • Small workgroups made recommendations to the full Task Force

  • Actuarial modeling that stimulated and answered questions in a timely way, enabling consensus

  • A constitutional obligation to provide access to affordable health care to all state residents

  • A vote to recommend formation of a non-profit public corporation focused on start-up activities to develop the plan by 2026 (SB 1089) now being considered by the Oregon Legislature.

Warren George, retired business leader, focused on cost, efficiency, and the role the high cost of healthcare plays in the loss of traditional jobs with benefits.

His conclusion:  the only way to avoid the cost, complexity, unequal access and provider shortages in our current healthcare “system” is through a publicly funded and administered system that is not dependent on employer-sponsored health care benefits.  The Oregon actuaries found that adopting a public option plan would increase health care costs by 2-3%, while a single-payer system would reduce those costs by 3-10%.  

And finally, Tom Sincic, retired nurse and current President of Health Care for All-Oregon, focused on the importance of organizing and the need for hope and a belief that the goal is reachable. 

  • Learning from other states such as New York, Vermont, and Colorado enabled Oregon to:  

  • Keep insurance companies on the sidelines

  • Get a true legislative Champion to lead on the legislation

  • Get the legislature to provide guidance on the goal of the Task Force.

  • Separately, declare healthcare a constitutional right.

  • Encourage community engagement via listening sessions and getting people to testify in support of the legislation.

Many more data points, key details, and the Q&A featuring informative discussions on ERISA, Federal waivers and Value Based Purchasing are available via the video on our YouTube channel.  

Tip: for a menu and easy access to each speaker, scroll down to “show more.”

We greatly appreciate the generosity of these three individuals in sharing their time and experience with us and look forward to more collaboration on our pathway to “Everybody In, Nobody Out” health care.  As John Santa said, “There is great value in a system that stresses cooperation and that we work together.  Competition isn’t working here.”

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