SALEM &

The centerpiece of state Sen. Alan Bates' legislative agenda cleared a major hurdle Wednesday despite tepid support among Republicans.




On a 22-7 vote, state senators approved the road map to universal health care that Bates, an Ashland physician, charted with Sen. Ben Westlund of Tumalo.




The two Democrats say their plan will overhaul Oregon's health care system by lowering costs, improving quality and shifting the emphasis to primary and preventive care.




"Clearly, the system is broken; it isn't affordable and it doesn't produce the kind of health outcomes we deserve in the 21st century," Bates said.




The proposal, which now goes to the House for a vote, would use $2.3 million in state and federal funds to establish the Oregon Health Trust Board.




The temporary, seven-member board would set, among other things, the cost to participants, benefits package and the amount the system will pay service providers.




The board's recommendations would be presented and vetted by state lawmakers in 2009.




Bates said that health care costs have risen, "and that's why we have over 600,000 uninsured Oregonians," Bates said. "Oregonians can't afford essential primary and preventative care to keep themselves healthy."




Westlund said the proposal would help make health care in the Beaver State "rational, affordable and effective."




Voicing his opposition to the bill, Republican state Sen. Jeff Kruse of Roseburg said the bill could lead to "significant tax increases."




Dubbed "The Healthy Oregon Act," the Bates-Westlund proposal would buy "affordable" health insurance for everyone in Oregon with state and federal dollars and contributions from employers and individuals.




Bates and Westlund, co-chairmen of the Senate Special Committee on Health Care Reform, have argued that to ensure that every Oregonian has access to medical care, the state needs to pool health insurance costs.




Separately, the Archimedes Movement, led by former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, introduced Senate Bill 27 that would pool state and private money with federal Medicare payments to provide universal coverage.




The Kitzhaber plan is especially complex because diverting Medicare money from seniors and the disabled would take an act of Congress to authorize.




In a seven-page letter to Bates, Westlund and Kitzhaber, Gov. Ted Kulongoski wrote that he shares their concerns about soaring health care costs and declining insurance coverage.




The April 2 letter from the Democratic governor went on to say, "I believe that voters want change. But they also want security."




Kulongoski spokesman Jake Weigler said the governor would like to see four components ultimately in a universal access plan.




They include a mandate to ensure coverage, creation of an insurance exchange to help consumers, a subsidy for those who cannot afford insurance and a focus on preventive medicine.




covers the state Legislature for the Ashland Daily Tidings. You can reach him at csrizo@hotmail.com.