May 25, 2022
The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners is urging Oregon Governor Kate Brown and the Legislature to create universal health care for all Oregon residents. In a resolution adopted on May 17the Council called on lawmakers to create a single-payer, state-funded health care system, and asked Brown to secure the cooperation of the federal government to fund it.
Commissioner Sharon Meieran introduced the Universal Access Resolution, the second she has sponsored since 2018, co-sponsored by Commissioner Susheela Jayapal.
“As a physician, I have seen with my own eyes so often how unequal access to affordable healthcare – or any other healthcare system – can seriously harm families and individuals facing some of the most difficult times of their lives,” Commissioner Meieran said. “Money, access to insurance, it shouldn’t dictate whether someone lives or dies or the quality of care they receive.”
Council members recognized the difficulty of granting such access.
“A lot of people, when they look at our healthcare system, ask, ‘How could we ever move to a universal system? “, said the commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson. “You don’t have to look far or hard to find a success story. What we can say about our current system is that it does not work for many people. I think we can do better. »
Efforts to make health care a human right under Oregon law began in 2005 with a ballot initiative called “Hope for Oregon Families.” In 2007 and 2008, lawmakers again called for an amendment to the state constitution proclaiming access to health care as a basic right. Similar resolutions were introduced in 2015 and 2018.
In 2019, the legislature passed Senate Bill 770 establishing a Universal Health Care Task Force, responsible for recommending a publicly funded universal health care system. And this fall, voters will consider a proposed amendment to the Oregon Constitution regarding the state’s obligation to provide access to health care.
Ethan Scarl, an advocate for universal health care who testified before the council, pointed to Canada’s universal health care system — and Saskatchewan, the central prairie province that started it all. It was so popular there that it became a national program within six years.
“Canadians live free from the fear of medical bankruptcy, but not us, for whom medical bankruptcy is just too muchcommon,” he said. “Canadians wouldn’t trade with us for anything.
Thuy Tran is an optometrist and owner of Rose City Vision Care, where she serves families whose insurance does not cover eye care. As a small business owner, she provides health insurance for her staff. But she couldn’t afford a policy to cover her own family.
So she joined the Air National Guard, which offered insurance policies with reasonable premiums.
“A funded, universal, single-payer healthcare system would open up access to all of these businesses. A single-payer system would eliminate this confusion, not only for patients but also for providers,” she said. “If you’re a big hospital, you can have a big department to handle that. But for smaller, neighborhood clinics, if we simplify the process, we could provide health care to our staff and ourselves, and focus on providing care to our community.
Commissioner Lori Stegman, also a small business owner, also said she found the insurance costs unreasonable. She praised the speakers for emphasizing the need to provide health care to all, “at a reasonable price that does not require people to sacrifice themselves in other areas of their lives.”
Commissioner Susheela Jayapal thanked Tran for exposing the false narrative about the cost to small businesses.
“Often the pushback is that it would cost small businesses too much,” she said. “It’s contrary to the facts.”
Jill Pham, executive director of Portland Jobs with Justice, also encouraged Multnomah County to pass the resolution. She said the current system of expensive copays and insurmountable deductibles makes insurance unnecessary for many.
Commissioner Sharon Meieran agreed. “What we need is access,” she said. “Insurance does not equal access.”
In 2019, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 770who created the Universal Health Care Task Force. The task force is charged with recommending a universal health care system that provides equitable, affordable, and comprehensive publicly funded health care to all Oregonians. Commissioner Meieran, who co-chairs the health and human services committee of the Association of Oregon Counties, OC, represents Oregon counties on the task force. The task force will hold listening sessions across the state this summer before making a recommendation in October 2022.
At the county meeting, Mary Lou Hennrich, who worked as a public health worker in Multnomah County for 30 years before becoming the founding CEO of CareOregon, serves on the Board of Directors for Healthcare for All Oregon. She applauded the county’s early leadership in opening student health and primary care clinics and offering prenatal care, family planning and harm reduction services.
She said the health system remains a patchwork of services and programs that can be complicated and time-consuming to learn about, request and access. True prevention can only begin when all people have equal access to quality, affordable care, she said.
“We spend too much time teaching our staff and clients how to navigate systems of care. Health care should not continue to be a privilege,” she said. “You have the awesome responsibility and ability to finally bring healthcare justice rather than charity to all residents. Now is the time for true justice.”