Dissatisfied with Obamacare, single-payer advocates are taking their message to the state capital

By David Rosenfeld for The Lund Report

Advocates for single-payer healthcare in Oregon plan to make their voices heard in Salem, Oregon on Friday.

Supporters of HB 3510, which calls for a universal state health plan, will rally in front of the capital at noon, March 11, followed by a hearing in the House Health Care Committee.

That could be as far as the bill will likely get, though, according to chief sponsor Rep. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland).

“There is obviously a strong base of support out there for single-payer and clearly a frustration that it hasn’t been a part of the government’s conversation,” Dembrow said. “But this will do that and people will become more educated and organized about it. In the long run I think single payer is where we’re going to end up.”

Dembrow and other supporters point to existing programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Veterans Administration, as current examples of single-payer healthcare in America.

Supporters are buoyed, too, in Oregon from a strong turnout in January at a single-payer conference that drew close to 500 people, including national leaders such as Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan) and Dr. Margaret Flowers, a fellow at Physicians for a National Health Program.

Oregon joins Vermont and California in attempting to pass state-based single-payer laws. The Oregon bill, co-sponsored by six other Democrats, would make a number of sweeping changes to the healthcare system.

* It creates a state health plan with no co-pays, deductibles or cost sharing.
* It bars commercial insurers from competing with the state plan, aside from offering additional coverage.
* It eliminates provider panels and says the plan must accept any qualified provider.
* Providers must too accept what the health plan pays, barring them from billing patients for the remainder.
* It expands certificate of need for hospitals and managed care plans.
* It leaves out the question of funding except to say costs will be based on an individual’s ability to pay.

Dembrow said he hopes Friday’s hearing starts a discussion that could see some of the ideas adopted by the Oregon Health Authority in applying for federal waivers or strengthening a proposal for a state-based public option.

“A lot of people are on board with the notion of trying to create the biggest pool as possible,” Dembrow said. “We just want to go a step further and take the insurance companies out of it and move to a self-insurance of this pool and try and dissociate coverage from employment.”

If the bill were to become reality, Dembrow envisions an exodus of employees from commercial insurers to government employees or government contract employees. Exactly how many people it would require or how much it would cost is unknown.

Rep. Bill Kennemer (R-Oregon City), who sits on the House Health Care Committee, said he’s not prepared to move the bill. “It’s a dramatic change from what we’re doing,” he said. “When you’re making social change, it’s tough to do dramatic change well.”

Supporters would like to at least see the legislature authorize a study to compare the costs of a single-payer system in the state with other options, as other states have done, said Peter Shapiro with Portland Jobs with Justice, who helped write the bill.

“It will certainly keep single payer in play as something to discuss and be taken seriously,” Shapiro said. “It also might create a better environment for something to fall short of that but advance the cause.”

Portland Jobs With Justice, Physicians for a National Health Program chapters in Corvallis and Portland, Mad as Hell Doctors and Healthcare for All Oregon formed the Oregon Single Payer Campaign to advocate for the bill.

2 Comments

  1. jscope on March 9, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    So many people and organizations have spent so much time and effort for decades to get a single payer system on the table at the state or national level. They are “pushing a noodle” as the saying goes. The cards are stacked against them. So isn’t it time to disconnect from the worn out rhetoric they have been using and their stubborn insistence on reforming health care in a way that fails? The strategy I have proposed for decades will always be ignored by the proponents of single payer, who want to plod along like hopeless little “Don Quijotes” rather than do an end run around all the forces aligned against them and attract conservatives and moderates to join in.

    1. Disconnect single payer from both insurance companies and government. The words “single payer” have been demonized beyond repair.
    2. Set up an independent non-government commission to run health care. This takes away the opponents argument that single payer means government run health care.
    3. The commission calls for companies to bid on a contract for one company to collect health care premiums and tax revenues and pay the bills, for a fixed management fee for a 4 year term with no right to make a profit or decide whether to pay the bills.
    4. Health care is big business. Big business, like Walmart, use market power to negotiate fees with providers and suppliers. Your position is that this is the essence of free enterprise and capitalism. So the commission hires people to negotiate down fees of providers, suppliers, drug companies and hospitals. This brings market driven free enterprise that conservatives talk about all the time to health care.



    • Bud L. on March 11, 2011 at 2:14 am

      Part of what you’re proposing is actually what Vermont seeks to do in implementing, particularly the idea that one private insurer will be selected as the administrative contractor for the unified system. However, the phrase “single payer” doesn’t seem to have the terrible cache you claim it to have. Perhaps Vermonters are just a stouter people.
      And, as an aside about your hope that waving “market driven free enterprise” under conservative opponents’ noses will bring them around: methinks you underestimate the power of money from threatened corporations and the willingness of acquiescent politicians to take it.