The third time proved to be the charm for residents representing Health Care for All Oregon at Tuesday’s Ashland City Council Meeting.
A brigade of several dozen sporting red Health Care for All Oregon T-shirts had approached two times before asking the council to certify their spot on the November ballot so Ashland residents could vote on a proposal asking the 2017 legislature to follow the results of research indicating what would be in the interest of health care options for Oregon residents, doctors and medical providers.
At one meeting, the council was unclear on language of the proposed measure and at another meeting simply ran out of time. Mayor John Stromberg moved the item up on the agenda to be certain to get to it on Tuesday.
The council unanimously passed the measure on to voters, but it did not happen without controversy.
Councilor Mike Morris told the group he does not believe putting a resolution to affect state policy on local ballots is “the way it should be done.” He told the group, “I support what it’s trying to do, but I have a lot of problems thinking it's going to change the state legislature.”
Councilor Rich Rosenthal said he understood Councilor Morris’ concerns, but Rosenthal also voted in favor of putting the measure on the ballot, saying “If this can in any way influence an outcome that helps those people without insurance, I support it.”
Advocates for the ballot resolution Sandra Coyner and Joe Graf spoke to the council on behalf of those present, urging councilors to allow citizens the chance to send a message to Salem.
“The Oregon legislature authorized the study of what would be the best way to finance the best care for Oregonians,” said Coyner. She told the council the resolution will let the legislature know residents of Ashland are paying attention. “We want to encourage the legislature to act on their study.”
Graf told the council that, while the Affordable Care Act (often called Obamacare) has resulted in more people having health insurance, it hasn’t worked as effectively as he had hoped. He said, “400,000 Oregonians don’t have health care. Costs are still too high. We spend a huge amount of money and outcomes aren’t better."
The group states as its mission putting in place a health care system “that is publicly financed, directing resources to medical care and minimizing administrative expenses and waste.” They essentially endorse a single-payer system which uses public money to pay for medical care. Such a system is in place in Canada. Those public dollars would not be used to pick doctors for individuals or necessarily dictate care, according to the group’s mission statement, but would instead offer and regulate health care as it does other necessities.
Their website states, “Health care, as a fundamental element of a just society, must not be rationed by cost as a commodity in private markets, but be secured to the people on an equitable basis by public means, similar to education, public safety, and public utilities.”
Councilor Pam Marsh expressed excitement about the measure. “It’s really striking what an incredible community we live in. I’m confident the legislature will do the right thing, but I think it’s important to keep the pressure on.”
Coyner told councilors the city of Ashland needs to keep taking the lead. “It fits my Ashland values. it’s about compassion. This is a smart way to go about it.”
Mayor John Stromberg echoed their sentiments. “Ashland has a way of doing creative things to move issues forward. We have a chance to innovate.”
The local resolution on the Nov. 1 ballot will ask Ashland residents to support an appropriate response by the state legislature to the study on healthcare commissioned by the house under House Bill 2828 which extends for two years provisions requiring the Oregon Health Authority to study and make recommendations to the legislative assembly on the best option for financing health care in the state.
It was passed in the 2015 legislative session.
As in previous public hearings before the Ashland council, no one voiced opposition to the resolution's goals. Only Councilor Morris, who supported the measure and its intentions, voiced concern about process to reach those goals.
Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.