Oregon may be the first state to make healthcare a human right


SALM, Oregon (Associated Press) – Oregon voters are being asked to decide whether the state should be the first in the state to amend its constitution to explicitly declare affordable health care a fundamental human right.

Making health care a human right is a value statement and not intended to push Oregon into a single health care system, said Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, a long-term goal for many. progressives.

But opponents warn that the amendment could raise legal and political problems and open the door to lawsuits.

Action 111 entered the November 8 ballot because the legislature, where Democrats have a majority, referred the issue to voters last year. There have been previous efforts, including in 2018 when then-President Donald Trump tried to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s health care law, but they died at State House.

Republican lawmakers have consistently opposed efforts to ask voters to enshrine health care as a right in Oregon’s 163-year-old constitution.

“The bill does not fund any system to deliver on that promise,” then-Senate Republican leader Fred Giroud said when the resolution was debated in March 2021.

Steiner Hayward recently told The Oregonian/OregonLive that if the measure is passed next month, the state’s current resources can handle any fiscal impact in the near future. But she did not rule out possible future tax increases to help provide that health care.

“Can I guarantee there are no new taxes? No. I don’t make such promises,” said Steiner Hayward.

Oregon has a history of being a leader in other liberal states: it was the first to legalize suicide for the terminally ill and the first to position itself as a sanctuary state to protect immigrants living in the country illegally. The state has also expanded coverage of abortions and other reproductive services regardless of income, citizenship status, or gender identity.

36 organizations, including health workers, unions and educators, described the new ballot measure as a “critical first step to creating an Oregon state where everyone can afford to be healthy.”

Among those who signed the statement of support in the voter brochure was the Oregon Nurses Association. Providence Health & Services – a not-for-profit Catholic healthcare system with multiple hospitals; Oregon Academy of Family Physicians; Service Personnel International, Oregon’s largest labor union.

The proposed amendment states: “It is the duty of the state to ensure that every Oregon resident has access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate, and affordable health care as a fundamental right.”

He went on to say that the state’s obligation “must be balanced with the public interest in financing public schools and other basic public services.”

But it does not specify “cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable” or what the bill is supposed to bear.

The Oregon Health Authority says 94% of Oregon residents already have insurance coverage, and more are eligible for an Oregon Medicaid plan or subsidy to reduce the cost of commercial health coverage.

But Steiner Hayward noted that having insurance does not guarantee access.

We know we have healthcare deserts in the state. “We know our primary care system is too overwhelmed,” she said. “We need to think about how we can change all of these things to ensure that having good health insurance means having good health care.”

The measure has long been endorsed by Democratic Representative Mitch Greenlake, who died in 2020 at age 85, a year before the legislature agreed to put it on the ballot.

In 2018, when the bill was put to a vote in the House of Representatives, Greenlake described how he was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2005 and relied on insurance to pay for huge treatment costs.

“If I didn’t have insurance, I wouldn’t be here,” Greenlake said. “I will die.”

Republican Representative Kim Alan wrote opposition to the measure in the voters’ handbook, saying it would likely end up in litigation.

“The courts will likely force the state to fully fund health care, causing police and education to scramble for funding,” she wrote.

Tina Kotik, then the Speaker of the House and now the Democratic nominee for governor, supports the initiative and says its goal is “primarily ambitious.”

Republican candidate Kristin Drazan opposes Measure 111 due to the potential financial implications. Unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson voted against the bill when she was a senator but said she would implement the mandate if Oregonians approved it and it was financially feasible.

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