Feb. 2, 2006
BY ALAN PITTMAN
Four years ago the insurance and hospital industry blasted out of
the water a citizen initiative for universal health care. The
measure won only 21 percent of the vote after opponents spent more
than $1 million to defeat it.
But with costs continuing to spiral and access to medical care
declining, reform advocates haven't given up.
Former Gov. John Kitzhaber recently used interest in the possibility
he might run for governor to focus media attention on the problem.
Kitzhaber says he wants to put an initiative on the November ballot
that would provide basic health care for all Oregonians. The system
would be funded by capturing money currently spent on Medicaid and
Medicare and health care related tax breaks. The rub is it would
require a host of federal waivers and legal changes that the health
care lobbyists could kill in Washington.
Current Gov. Ted Kulongoski, relieved Kitzhaber won't run against
him, also recently announced his own more modest effort to insure
all Oregon children. Details of the plan are sketchy and Kulongoski
has let Oregon Health Plan insurance for the poor wilt during his
A host of other proposed reform initiatives for November are also
out circulating for signatures. Here's a rundown:
• A universal health care initiative would require the state
Legislature to provide universal health care by 2008.
• A bipartisan group of legislators have sponsored a constitutional
amendment that takes a more incremental approach by establishing
health care as a fundamental right and forcing the Legislature to
develop a plan to provide universal coverage (see
• The legislator group has also filed an initiative to boost tobacco
taxes to raise funds that would provide universal health coverage to
kids. A similar measure failed in the Legislature last year.
• Bill Morrisette, Democratic state senator from Springfield, has
filed a initiative that would allow any uninsured Oregonian to take
part in the state's drug discount program for uninsured, poor
The right is also out circulating health care initiatives. One
protects bad doctors from lawsuits for patient injuries. Another
would restrict abortion choice by requiring parental notification.
An estimated 615,000 Oregonians lack health insurance. In addition
to the human suffering the lack of health care causes for its
victims, reformers say the uninsured boost premiums for the insured
as hospitals try to recover uncompensated care.