Ashland Republican Takes Role in Healthcare Arena

Sen. Alan DeBoer will be a new face on two key committees as the Legislature convenes this month. In an interview with The Lund Report, he added his support to programs for children with disabilities, which face cuts.

The Oregon State Capitol will have a new face for the 2018 session in its health policy circles, as Ashland Republican Sen. Alan DeBoer steps into the void on two key committees.

DeBoer is replacing Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, on the Senate health policy committee, as Kruse has been sidelined in a sexual harassment scandal. DeBoer will also take a seat on the health and human services budget committee, replacing Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, who was elevated to caucus leader after the retirement of Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day.

DeBoer said he was excited to step into the healthcare arena after spending the 2017 session as the ranking Republican on the Senate General Government and Accountability Committee, as well as the Committee on Ways & Means and general government budget subcommittee.

He did not support the Oregon Health Plan funding package when it passed the Senate last June, but he said he was relieved that Measure 101 passed last month, clearing an immediate budget headache for the Legislature. “The ballot measure we just passed is a temporary fix -- we’ll have to do something better.”

The ballot measure keeps the Oregon Health Plan operating at full capacity for the next 17 months and also allowed the state to expand coverage to immigrant children and new mothers who live here without legal residence.

Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, who worked with Kruse on healthcare policy for 15 years in the House and the Senate, said she does not know DeBoer very well, but she looks forward to working with him. “He doesn’t have strong opinions on any legislation so far,” she said.

Only four bills will originate in the Senate Health Committee this year -- and one of those simply designates a post-traumatic stress disorder month. The committee will also debate who can clear student athletes to play after a concussion, help state mental patients keep their health insurance and debate state tax fixes for health savings accounts.

Kruse has refused to resign despite accusations of groping from Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, and of other unwanted touching from Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton. But he has been stripped of his committee assignments pending the result of a special Senate Conduct Committee, which could recommend expulsion or his return to full status.

DeBoer, who was elected in 2016 after the death of Sen. Alan Bates, said he had learned about health policy issues from his predecessor while mayor of Ashland and as the treasurer of the Ashland Community Hospital, which he helped sell to the nonprofit Asante Health System.

He became further involved after a showdown between Jackson County and its two local coordinated care organizations, Jackson Care Connect and AllCare Health, imperiled mental health access in his district, which includes the bulk of Medford as well as Ashland.

“We’ve had some real problems with CCOs in Jackson County on mental healthcare,” DeBoer said.

DeBoer, who faces the voters again this fall, said he wanted to prioritize upstream investments into pregnant women and young children: “We can save so much money as a state if we take care of prenatal and children till kindergarten.”

At the same time, he opposed bringing unauthorized immigrant children into the Oregon Health Plan, agreeing with his fellow Republicans that they could be served in community health centers. While these children are not here legally, they are still likely to graduate from the state school system and work in Oregon, much like the Dreamers currently the focus of debate in Washington, D.C.

DeBoer said he supported single-payer health insurance, in theory, and told The Lund Report that he believes that America will eventually get around to a national insurance plan. But he doesn’t think Oregon can do that alone, and he opposes the Democratic effort to amend the state Constitution to make healthcare a right.

“It’ll break the state,” he said, anticipating lawsuits from uninsured people and advocates similar to what Washington state faced after it guaranteed the to right to a quality public education, which required special legislative sessions after courts found the state had not met its obligations.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, the author of the constitutional amendment, said it was not his intent to provide a legal right of action, and the legislative counsel has agreed with him, but he conceded that the courts could interpret the law differently, particularly if the state shows no progress on bridging the insurance gap for a significant number of people.

“The federal government is becoming an unreliable partner,” said Greenlick. “If the voters give the state a formal responsibility, the state has an obligation to do that.”

DeBoer has not sponsored any healthcare legislation for 2018 and said, if anything, that the Legislature passes too many bills that cause headaches for medical providers and the healthcare industry without achieving their intended result.

On the budget, he said, the big tax cut passed by Congress in December will boost the state economy and its revenue coffers and yield a surplus rather than the deficit that Democrats contend.

He joined Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, and House Republicans in committing to restoring cuts to the Disability Division at the Department of Human Services to ensure that no disabled child is turned away from receiving in-home supports.

“We’ll fund that,” said DeBoer, who had been mum on restoring the $300,000 to the program before the Measure 101 vote. “I agree with Senator Gelser. This is a good investment and it’s a drop in the bucket.”

Reach Chris Gray at chris@thelundreport.org.
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