Capping months of work, state Sen. Alan Bates' legislation, which could provide a sweeping overhaul to Oregon's health care system, is headed to Gov. Ted Kulongoski for his signature.
Carried by Bates and fellow Democrat, Sen. Ben Westlund of Tumalo, the proposal is aimed at providing guaranteed health insurance to all Oregonians, including the 600,000 people who lack coverage, regardless of their medical history.
Bates, a practicing primary care physician in Medford and Ashland Democrat, said the bipartisan-backed legislation will ultimately lead to lower health care costs, improved outcomes and a renewed emphasis on preventive and primary care.
Senate Bill 329 cleared its final legislative hurdle on Friday, the same day the Joint Ways and Means Committee unceremoniously killed a competing bill by Former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber's Archimedes Movement.
Kitzhaber's proposal, while similar to the Bates-Westlund bill, would have pooled state and private money with federal Medicare payments &
a move that would have required congressional approval.
"Unfortunately, their bill died," said Bates, adding that he is committed to working with the Archimedes Movement. "We all want lower health care costs and to have quality outcomes."
Westlund's chief of staff, Stacey Dycus, said that Kitzhaber should not be surprised his bill stalled.
"Governor Kitzhaber was told from the very beginning that Senate Bill 329 was going to be the vehicle for health care reform this session," said Dycus, adding that the two proposals are "almost identical."
When the Archimedes bill was advanced by the Senate Health Committee it was as a "courtesy to Governor Kitzhaber, not a guarantee" that his bill would be moved forward by the Joint Ways and Means Committee, Dycus explained.
The Bates-Westlund proposal, officially the product of the Senate Special Committee on Health Care Reform, is a blending of the Archimedes bill and policy suggestions made by the Oregon Business Council and the Oregon Health Policy Commission.
The proposal, dubbed "The Healthy Oregon Act," will use $2.3 million equally provided by state and federal funds to establish the Oregon Health Trust Board.
The temporary, seven-member panel will establish, among other things, the cost to participants, the benefits package and the amount the system will pay doctors and other health care providers.
The board's recommendations will be presented to the 2009 state Legislature, and could become a national model for health care reform, supporters said
"We've now established the base-camp at Mount Everest; now, the ascent and real work begins," Bates said after the proposal handily cleared the House on a 52-5 vote.
The 16-page bill is not without its critics. Republican state Sen. Jeff Kruse of Roseburg balked that the legislation, which was ultimately approved 22-7 in the Senate, could lead to "significant tax increases."
Rep. Linda Flores of Clackamas, troubled by the bill's definition of universal coverage, was the only Republican to speak against the bill in the House.
"There are some serious considerations that we should all be making in regard to universalism (and) universal health care," Flores said.
covers the state Legislature for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at email@example.com.
Health care bill pushes toward signature