reposted from the Eugene Registered Guard, July 25th, 2002
State-run health care goes to voters
By TIM CHRISTIE,br> The Register-Guard
A ballot measure that would establish a single-payer, Canadian-style health care system in Oregon may make history this November, one way or another.
If it passes, the initiative will revolutionize the way health care is delivered in Oregon and send shock waves through the national healthcare establishment. And if it fails, a prime reason could be a record-setting campaign against the measure.
"The insurance industry will spend whatever they think they need to spend to carpet bomb the airwaves with negative ads," Bill Lunch, a political scientist at Oregon State University, said Wednesday. Proponents of the health care measure, which has yet to be assigned a number, gathered 70,113 valid signatures (98,001 were sent to be verified) to make the ballot, based on asampling conducted by the Secretary of State's Office. The measure needed 66,786 signatures to get on the ballot.
The measure would make health care available to all Oregonians,regardless of ability to pay. In 2000, an estimated 470,000 Oregon residents had no health coverage, about 14 percent of the population, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. About 41 million Americans have no health insurance, according to Families USA, a national consumer advocacy group.
The universal coverage would be financed by redirecting current local, state and federal expenditures on health care in Oregon as well as by imposing new payroll and income taxes.
Mark Lindgren of Corvallis, the initiative's campaign chairman, said proponents are already gearing up for the fall campaign. They've hired a campaign manager, a communications director and a fund-raising company, and they hope to raise $500,000 for the campaign, he said. "That will be dwarfed by what we're expecting from the opposition," he said.
Indeed, Lunch said he expects opponents to set a new record for spending on an Oregon initiative campaign.
The current initiative campaign record was set in 1986, when about $5 million - much of it from Portland General Electric - was spent on a successful campaign to defeat a measure that would have closed the Trojan nuclear plant in Rainier. Lunch expects the opposition campaign to the Health Care for All initiative to easily exceed that amount - possibly spending as much as $10 million.
While opponents will use radio and direct mail, they'll probably spend most of their money on TV ads, he said. For perhaps 15 percent of voters, television advertising is their only source of information about public policy, Lunch said.
Lunch and others said the measure faces long odds in November because of the powerful opposition.
"One has to assume going in it's going to be exceedingly difficult for proponents of this measure to prevail in November," Lunch said. Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, which lobbies for health-care consumers, said he doubts the Oregon measure will pass because of opposition from the health care industry.
"If you have a single-payer system that requires all coverage to be provided through the government, that would wipe out the insurance industry," he said. "I can't imagine the insurance industry standing idly by to watch its own demise."
Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon, which insures 1.2 million Oregonians, opposes the measure, but its too early to predict what kind of opposition campaign it will mount, spokeswoman Cynthia Platonov said. "We'll be working with a broad-based coalition, more than likely made up of more than just health plans," she said.
The stakes are huge for the insurance industry, Lunch said. Oregon is nationally known for political innovation, and if its voters pass a single-payer system, it could set off a chain reaction in the 25 other states with the initiative process, he said.
But Lunch noted that for every initiative that passes in Oregon, two typically fail.
In the campaign, opponents will remind voters that the idea behind the initiative was rejected by legislators and other policy-makers. And the scope of the measure may intimidate some voters, he said. One wild card is the dissatisfaction people have with the current health care system.
"The HMOs and drug companies have done a great deal to alienate millions and millions of Americans," he said.
"If that alienation can be translated into votes then the proponents of this proposal might have a fighting chance."
HEALTH CARE INITIATIVE
Supporters of a measure that would establish a single-payer health care system in Oregon have gathered enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
* Universal coverage: All Oregonians, including 470,000 without insurance coverage, would have access to health coverage. The plan would cover all "medically necessary" treatment, as determined by any state-licensed, certified or registered health care practitioner.
* New state agency: The Oregon Comprehensive Health Care Finance Plan,administered by a 15-member board, would negotiate rates and pay doctors and hospitals for treating patients. After three years of operation, the plan would cap administrative costs at 5 percent, then be adjusted annually at the rate of nonmedical inflation.
* New taxes: Businesses would pay a payroll tax between 3 percent and 11.5 percent. Individuals would pay a personal income tax, not to exceed 8 percent. Supporters say the payroll tax would replace the insurance premiums businesses now pay, and the income tax would replace most of what individuals now pay for health coverage, such as premiums, co-payments, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.