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Help Plan Next Steps Towards Single Payer in Oregon

Register now for the May 30th HCAO Annual Meeting

Health Care for All-Oregon will discuss next steps in our campaign for single payer health care in Oregon at the HCAO Annual Meeting Saturday, May 30, 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m, at the SEIU 503 Ballroom, 6401 SE Foster, Portland. Representatives of our 110 member organizations and chapters, as well as other HCAO activists from around the state will attend (you are invited, register now!), review progress during the 2015 legislative session and plan next steps.

Also at the May 30 HCAO Annual Meeting, we will get updates from Senator Michael Dembrow on progress on SB 631 (the Health Care for All Oregon Plan), HB 2828 (the Health Care Study Bill) and other legislation supported by HCAO during the 2015 legislative session.

Finally, members will have the opportunity to consider and vote on critical bylaw revisions and a slate of leaders including the Board of Directors and Officers. Nominations are also accepted from the floor.  

Click HERE for the May 30 HCAO Membership Meeting agenda.                

See you there!                                                                   

 -Lee Mercer, HCAO Board President

Register now for the May 30th HCAO Annual Meeting

Obamacare's Health Plan Choice Benefits Are Vastly Overrated

by Dr. Philip Caper, | Op-Ed
 Bangor Daily News  Sunday, 24 May 2015


It is well documented that many other countries have created health care systems that are more popular than ours, cover everybody, are more effective as measured by better health outcomes, are better able to restrain increases in costs and, therefore, have per-capita costs that are a fraction of ours.

One of the reasons for the popularity of universal health care systems elsewhere in the developed world is that when everybody is in the same system, everybody has an incentive to make that program work. The people of those countries have a sense of ownership and responsibility for their common system.

That contrasts sharply with the situation here in the U.S., where people primarily and often exclusively are concerned with their own little piece of the system, such as Medicare, the Veterans Affairs, their own employment-based or veteran’s insurance, plans purchased on the Obamacare exchanges, Medicaid and so on.

Americans also are confused about who owns the system. Is it the government, their employer or their union? Or, as more Americans are coming to believe, health insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry or the increasingly consolidated corporate providers of health care such as large hospital systems?

In other words, we lack the solidarity that both is an expression of and created by the existence of a single common way of dealing with the challenges of providing affordable health care coverage for all.


Study: Health coverage is lacking

Nearly 25 percent of Americans don’t have adequate protection from big medical bills

By Tom Murphy
The Associated Press, May 21, 2015

Nearly a quarter of U.S. adults who were insured all last year lacked adequate protection from big medical bills based on their income, according to Commonwealth Fund research.

The nonprofit foundation estimates that about 31 million people between the ages of 19 and 64 were underinsured due in part to the out-of-pocket expenses they have to pay for care. That includes deductibles, or payments a patient has to make before most coverage begins.

Insurers and employers who offer coverage have been raising deductibles for years as they try to contain premiums, or the price of insurance coverage. That means more of the bill for care is being passed along to patients. Some benefits advisers say this approach can help lower health care costs because it compels patients to shop for better deals on care, and insurers and employers are providing tools for patients to do that.

Skipping care altogether is another approach patients are choosing, according to Commonwealth. It found that 44 percent of the people considered underinsured skipped doctor’s visits or a prescription or did not get a recommended medical test.


Community groups rap Oregon Health Authority for planned cuts

OHA Director Lynne Saxton.

OHA Director Lynne Saxton.

Health Care Inc. Northwest
Elizabeth Hayes

Portland Business Journal May 22, 2015

Representatives of 30 organizations want to discuss the future of a program that helps underserved communities enroll in health insurance.

The groups have requested a meeting with Oregon Health Authority Director Lynne Saxton.

“The bottom line is (the) need to have an open, frank conversation about the future of how the state will support and provide resources for enrollment efforts in communities across the state,” said Alberto Moreno, executive director of the Oregon Latino Health Coalition and lead signatory of a May 20 letter to Saxton.

Moreno said she acknowledged receipt and indicated that she is pulling together an internal team to study the issue and will get back to him to set up a meeting.

“We hope and trust she will be responsive and will take concerns seriously,” Moreno said.


Sick man whose Obamacare story went viral could be thwarted by Supreme Court

by Greg Sargent
Washington Post, May 20, 2915

By now you may have learned of the plight of one Luis Lang, a South Carolina man whose story went viral after it was reported that he couldn’t afford to treat an illness that was threatening to make him blind — and blamed Obamacare for it. He has since come around to the view that Democrats may not be entirely to blame for his state of affairs — and says he is going to try to gain coverage through the law.

But there’s another potential twist to the tale: Just as he is now seeking to get on Obamacare, he could very well find himself unable to sign up for coverage, if the Supreme Court rules for the challengers in King v. Burwell next month.

Lang’s story has gone wild on the internet, turning him into a symbol of a number of intertwined narratives about the law: How Republican opposition to the Medicaid expansion has created a coverage gap claiming many low income people; how justifiable confusion about the complicated law is fueling anger at it; and so on.

It all started when the Charlotte Observer reported that Lang, 49, a self-employed Republican handyman who has never bought insurance, developed “bleeding in his eyes and a partly detached retina caused by diabetes.” The paper reported that subsequent medical bills quickly ate up his savings, whereupon he turned to the Obamacare exchange. He discovered his earnings fall below the window to qualify for a subsidy, yet he might not be able to get on Medicaid because South Carolina has not opted into the Medicaid expansion. He risks falling into the “Medicaid gap.”


Insurers' high-deductible plans leave many without needed care

Commentary: study shows more Americans entering ranks of the underinsured
by Wendell Potter
Center for Public Integrity May 18, 2015

A dozen or so years ago, a small group of wealthy corporate insurance executives decided their customers were not paying nearly enough for the medical care they received. How else to explain the fact that managed care — which they had touted as a silver bullet just a decade earlier — had failed miserably at controlling health care costs.

Those executives came to embrace as the newest silver bullet a strategy incubated at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based libertarian think tank that advocates for fewer government regulations and more individual responsibility. The strategy that emerged in the early 2000s was what the insurance industry called consumer driven health plans — CDHPs for short. These plans are superficially appealing because the premiums are lower.  But that obscures a defining and central feature of CDHPs: a requirement that folks enrolled in them, regardless of income, pay a substantial sum from their wallets for medical care every year before their insurance coverage kicks in.  

In some ways at least, CDHPs are about less insurance. With every passing year, under the industry’s strategy, insurance companies would be paying a smaller percentage of medical claims while their customers would be paying more because of the high deductibles.


Runaway Drug Prices

New York Times, May 5, 2015

A drug to treat abnormal heart rhythms can cost about $200 on one day and more than $1,300 the next. A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis can lead to a drug bill of at least $50,000 a year. How companies set prices of specialty drugs for these and other complex diseases, like cancer and AIDS, has been a mystery to the patients who need them. Now the Obama administration and some states are tackling that lack of transparency and the rising costs.

Mr. Obama has asked Congress to let Medicare officials negotiate prices with drug manufacturers, a practice forbidden by current law that may be hard to change with the antiregulatory mood among Republicans. And several states are considering bills that would require drug companies to justify their prices to public agencies. It is the least the states can do to bring costs to levels that patients, hospitals and government programs can afford.

Spending on all prescription drugs, including commonly used medicines like antibiotics, accounts for a tenth of the nation’s total health spending. Prices have been rising slowly in recent years mainly because many brand-name drugs lost protection and lower-cost generics were prescribed. But there are fewer patent expirations ahead. Specialized medicines already on the market carry huge price tags, as The Times reported recently, and strain the budgets of Medicare, Medicaid and consumers. The list price for a one-year’s supply of Kalydeco to treat cystic fibrosis is $311,000. A standard course of treatment with Blincyto, a leukemia drug, is about $178,000.


Single-Payer Activists Outline Possible 2016 Ballot Measure

While a legislative effort for single-payer does not have enough support to pass, particularly in the Senate, Sen. Michael Dembrow believes a ballot measure could bring universal healthcare to Oregonians before the end of the decade, using a template to be decided by a comprehensive study.

by Chris Gray
The Lund Report, May 5, 2015

Single-payer advocates came to the Capitol on Monday to air their passions on behalf of a bill that’s not going anywhere, but a pair of efforts on the horizon may bolster their ideas for replacing private health insurance with a single-payer health plan for everyone.

Charlie Swanson of Health Care of All Oregon told The Lund Report that his organization has submitted three potential ballot measures to the Secretary of State’s office, to put before the voters in 2016. His organization will decide later this month whether to begin collecting signatures.

“The most ideal time would be on the 2016 ballot, and that’d be great if that could happen,” said Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, Oregon’s longtime champion of single-payer health insurance. “We don’t want to go to the ballot until the organizers could guarantee us a million votes,” he added, reserving the possibility to delay the vote to 2018 or 2020.

Swanson explained that none of the ballot initiatives include details about how the system would actually work. One measure says that healthcare is a human right, and would require the state to guarantee healthcare to everyone. Another calls upon the Legislature to enact a universal healthcare system based on the outcome of House Bill 2828, which funds a comprehensive study.


Report on SB 631 Hearing

Today’s testimony was the most powerful and eloquent of all the three hearings on single payer health care I have attended since 2011.

After the testimony of Sen. Dembrow, Sen. Monnes Anderson made a comment to the effect that other countries offering universal health care pay more taxes than Americans do. That is correct. We need a one sentence response to comments like that. Here is my offering.

The amount of money that Oregonians currently pay in health insurance premiums and out of pocket payments exceeds the additional taxes they would pay to participate in a statewide single payer program.

That reduction is corroborated by all 28 American studies of single payer health care and the experiences of all single payer health care systems in the US and around the world. The reward for relabeling what Oregonians already pay as premiums and out of pocket payments is a net reduction in health care costs, a lower cost of doing business in Oregon, the end of labor strikes over benefits, assured access to every family regardless of income or employment, the ability of Oregonians to seek care from any provider, and guaranteed payment to providers no matter who their patient might be.

The penalty is the indignity of relabeling health care payments as “taxes.” Some voters in Oregon would still find that penalty intolerable. Fortunately, not all of them.

Samuel Metz. MD