Lawmakers: Take healthcare to voters

SALEM, Ore. (AP) – With a shrinking Oregon Health Plan and no legislative proposals to cover the 600,000 Oregonians without insurance, a group of advocates and lawmakers plan to take the issue directly to voters.

They plan an initiative campaign to put a measure on the November 2006 ballot that would require the Legislature to come up with a plan to extend affordable health care to more Oregonians.

How that’s done would be up to lawmakers in the next two legislative sessions, but they would be required to pass a plan by 2009.

“We can no longer tolerate leaving 600,000 Oregonians without health insurance,” Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, said at a news conference Wednesday to announce the initiative drive.

Greenlick said about two-thirds of uninsured Oregonians are employed, but either cannot afford employer-provided health insurance or it is not offered to them.

Co-sponsors of the proposal are Sens. Ben Westlund, R-Bend, and Alan Bates, D-Ashland. Greenlick said the three are turning to the initiative option because Greenlick has introduced a similar bill in two legislative sessions and has yet to get a hearing on it.

The lawmakers will have to gather 100,000 signatures by July 2006 to put their proposed constitutional amendment on the fall ballot.

If voters approved the amendment, the state constitution would require the legislature to “expand health care coverage so that every Oregon resident is able to obtain effective and affordable health care on a regular basis.”

The proposal calls on lawmakers to strengthen employer-provided insurance and maximize Medicaid, Medicare and existing health care programs.

Details would be left to legislators.

“We’re in trouble now, but it’s a crisis that is getting worse,” said Westlund of the 600,000 uninsured and the rising cost of health care.

The last time voters faced a referendum to decrease the number of uninsured in the state was 2002, when a measure to provide universal health care for all Oregonians was soundly defeated because it would have raised taxes.