The fight for single payer health care in Oregon goes back a long way (see below). A ballot initiative sponsored by Health Care for All Oregon (HCAO) seemed headed for passage in 2003 before it was buried in an avalanche of insurance industry money late in the campaign. Portland Jobs with Justice (JwJ), after fighting for several years for HR 676, the national single payer bill, decided to work on a state measure after passage of the Affordable Care Act in March 2010 made clear that Congress wasn’t interested in real health reform. Physicians for a National Health Program and the Mad as Hell Doctors joined with HCAO and JwJ to form the Oregon Single Payer Campaign (OSPC), which worked with Rep. Michael Dembrow to draft the Affordable Health Care for All Oregon Act (HB 3510) and lobby in Salem in 2011 for its passage.
Widespread support for the bill was apparent at a January 2011 conference called by OSPC which drew close to 600 people. Two months later, supporters filled two committee rooms and spilled out into the lobby of the State Capitol for a dramatic hearing of the House Health Care Committee. HB 3510 didn’t make it to the floor for a vote, but support for universal, publicly-funded health care at the state and national levels has continued to grow—especially as the health care crisis has deepened and the weaknesses of the Affordable Care Act have become more obvious.
On January 27, 2012, representatives of 28 organizations* met to launch a statewide coalition. Its goal: to unite everyone in Oregon who believes that health care is a human right and that only a publicly-funded system can assure everyone full and equal access to that right. Labor unions, health care providers, faith groups, immigrant rights groups, advocates for the homeless and under-served—working together, we can challenge the power of the few who profit from this country’s broken health care system.
* Note: Please go to About Us for the current list of more than 60 Coalition member organizations.
In the beginning. . .
In the early 1980's, ten state legislators, including Bill Morrisette and Jim Edmunson, sponsored a single payer bill. The Oregon Health Plan (OHP), enacted in 1994 after an enormous amount of public involvement, was originally contemplated by many as a possible vehicle for a statewide single payer plan; however, the Legislature refused to adequately fund the plan, so OHP now employs state and federal funding to subsidize and maintain a private health insurance model.
In 1995, the Oregon Health Action Campaign (OHAC) spearheaded submission of a singlepayer bill, SB 1066, which was endorsed by dozens of state organizations and received a hearing. When an OHAC sub-committee, the Single Payer Action Reform Committee (SPARC), prepared to launch a single payer initiative campaign, it broke away from OHAC due to legal requirements and became an independent 501(c)4 corporation, Health Care for All Oregon (HCAO) in 1999.
HCAO became something else....story is unfolding.
From 1999 through 2001, a broad-based group of citizen activists in HCAO spent years writing the initiative language and getting feedback on the measure from other groups around the state. Organizers chose a specific funding mechanism that used existing government funding, an employer payroll tax and an income tax. The single payer initiative was filed in spring 2002, and put on the ballot in November 2002; it was outspent 50:1 and got only about 21% of the vote.
--Mike Huntington, M.D.