Senate Health Care Committee Sets May 4 Hearing Date for SB 631: Health Care for All Oregon Act

Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson, chair of the Health Care Committee of the Oregon Senate, has scheduled a hearing for SB 631, the Health Care for All Oregon Act on Monday, May 4, at 3 p.m. in the Capitol in Salem, Hearing Room A. SB 631 outlines a plan to provide publicly funded universal health care for all Oregon residents.

Speaking at the Salem hearing will be: Senator Michael Dembrow, chief sponsor of SB 631. Following him will be a Power Point presentation narrated by Charlie Swanson of Eugene. Other speakers include Penny York, chair of the Corvallis City Council; Tim Roach, a retired minister who serves as Vice-President for Mid-Valley Health Care Advocates and works with the Inter-Faith committee for health care; Jason Freilinger, president of Freilinger Electronics of Silverton; Dr. Paul Hochfield, a member of Physicians for a National Health Program; Prof. Chunhuei Chi, a Public Health professor who has advised Taiwan on its National Health Program; Jo Ann Hardesty, principal partner of Consult Hardesty and former state legislator; and Rob Sisk of SEIU 503.

The hearing on May 4 will take place after the April 21 deadline for a bill to be considered for a vote during the legislative session. These “courtesy” hearings are given to bills that have many supporters and co-sponsors (SB 631 has almost 30) or for other reasons are considered significant for legislators to learn about. Earlier versions of SB 631 had hearings in the House Health Care Committee in 2011 and 2013. Typically, bills are heard in the legislature for several sessions before being brought to the floor for a vote. They are re-shaped in intervening years in response to legislative input, and then approved.

Proposals in the state bills rely on one of the 90-plus provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including section 1332, which describes a “Waiver for State Innovation.” By using this provision, plus two other required waivers, states would qualify for funds equal to the tax credits and cost-sharing benefits provided in the ACA. A primary requirement is that the state systems provide equal or greater care than that offered through the ACA. This waiver cannot be utilized until January of 2017, but can be developed before that time.

States with active universal health care committees represent all regions of the country. Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, and Washington, like Oregon, have universal health care bills in current legislative sessions, while California, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico and North Carolina have committees pursuing proposals. Most bills suggest types of public funding, but leave to their legislatures the final decision as to which taxes will be enacted. SB 631 suggests a progressive employer payroll assessment supplemented by a progressive tax on some types of income, but in each state, the exact financing method and the amount of money to be collected are not specified.

In addition to obvious humanitarian impulses, motivations for developing the state plans include substantial cost savings and improved population health. Gerald Friedman, chair of the Economics Department, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, did a study of New York’s health proposal demonstrating that its plan would reduce the cost of health care to New Yorkers even while extending and improving the provision of care. Providing quality care to all residents also conforms with policies and goals developed by the World Health Organization.

For more details about current HCAO legislation, please visit our 2015 Legislative page.

--Mark Kellenbeck, chair, HCAO Legislative Committee