By Kirsten Allen
Ron Green first learned of the woes of providing health care to employers in the 70s when he was running a bike shop in Texas. Green, a disabled veteran, receives free health care through the VA. When his bike shop began to expand, he looked to hire workers that were either young and still covered by their parents’ insurance, or old enough to receive Medicare, to keep costs down and earn profit.
“In the late 1960s, we had 5% of our GDP devoted to health care. Now, that’s 18%, and it’s going up. That’s just not sustainable, we can’t afford to keep doing that. Those that do have coverage often go bankrupt either providing it or paying medical bills, and those who don’t are constantly worried about the consequences of not having it,” said Green.
It is for this reason, as well as several others, that Green agreed to chair the Mid-Valley Health Care Advocates (MVHCA). MVHCA is a grassroots organization founded in the early 90s, with the goal to bring quality health care to everybody. Along with their ally, Health Care for All-Oregon, (HCAO) a coalition of over 100 organizations, MVHCA is working “to create a comprehensive, equitable, affordable, publicly funded, high quality, universal health care system serving everyone in Oregon and the United States.”
Medical bills are the number one reason Americans are in debt. The US is paying more toward health care than the entire GDP of France, and yet we are ranked 31st in the world. Green, along with volunteers of MVHCA, is trying to change this using the method of single-payer health care.
Also referred to as universal health care, single-payer health care is a system where the state government provides free health care to everybody. Funded by a progressive income and employer payroll tax, single-payer would provide quality health care free of premiums, deductibles, and co-payments.
Green again: “The fact is, it’s going to cost a lot of money. It’s not politically easy to sell to people the idea that we’re going to have to raise so much money from taxes to pay for it. The other half of that, of course, is you subtract from that all the health insurance company premiums, all the co-pays and deductibles. The intent of the plan is to cover all services previously covered by Oregon Educators Benefit Board (OEBB), Public Employees Benefit Board (PEBB), Medicare, Medicaid and Medicare Advantage Plans.”
HB 2922 was brought to the Oregon legislature in 2013, outlining the implementation of the plan. Though the bill didn’t go to General Assembly for a vote, it had 24 sponsors, up from 12 in 2011. This year, Green expects that number to increase to 36. The health care plan was supplemented by HB 3260, which proposed a study of four different health care systems in attempt to discern which system would best fit Oregon. The study is estimated to cost $200,000, a drop in the bucket considering the amount of money the state has spent before. The bill passed, overwhelmingly in fact, but was later struck down because a source of funding hadn’t been identified. The bill is expected to pass in the next legislative session, and Green suspects the results of the study will be in favor of a single-payer system.
Although HB2922 didn’t pass, sponsorship in the legislature nearly doubled since the previous vote, and is expected to continue growing. Though a promising sign, ahead lie many obstacles waiting to slap the bill down. Perhaps the most challenging obstacle is the profit-driven system we are involuntarily thrust into. This system has many stakeholders (medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, etc.) whose profits would take a hit and who would squeal the loudest when this plan creates enough steam to capture more widespread interest and support.
Another obstacle Green expects to encounter lies at the heart of what the single-payer plan is all about: health care for everybody, including undocumented migrant workers. After the failure of Measure 88, Green suspects this to be a considerable point of contention. However, no matter the amount of resistance this matter is likely to receive, it will remain non-negotiable.
The governance of the plan is also expected to draw opposition. Typically citizens are wary of health care when the government is involved (think of the infamous “death panels” that accompanied the rolling out of Affordable Care Act). However, Green believes this is a taboo society must overcome. The plan will be governed by a board of directors containing nine voting members appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate. The board will include two licensed health care providers, two persons with significant education and experience in public health, two with demonstrated experience in health or consumer advocacy, and one each from labor and business. Having a state-regulated health care system would allow for better allocation of resources, cut wasteful spending, and reduce expensive overhead.
Among single-payer’s many advocates, Physicians for a National Health Care System has been boisterously supportive. Dr. Carol Paris, a psychiatrist and member of PNHCS, states the cost of dealing with insurance companies to an average primary care physician is somewhere around $68,000. These costs result in an increase in price and decrease of face time for patients, because doctors need to see a larger volume of patients to make enough money to pay their insurance clerks and have enough money left over to support themselves.
Now that you know the who, the why, and the what, get ready to embrace the when, the where, and the how. MVHCA are teaming up with HCAO to rally at the capitol in Salem on Wednesday, Feb. 11 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Buses will run from Corvallis and Albany to transport red shirt-wearing, banner-carrying folks wanting to express their desire for health care for all. The rally will feature live music, inspiring speakers, and a chance to join a group to meet with legislators. Being that this is an issue universal to all colors, ages, and occupations, it would be fantastic to have more than the typical old white protestor. The rally is expected to draw 2,500 people, so don’t wait to reserve your bus seat! For more information or to reserve your seat, visit www.mvhca.org. For more info, visit www.pnhp.org/facts/single-payer-faq.