Lawmakers Take Up Affordable Health Care Proposal - Again 

state Capitol by Robert Aughenbaugh.jpg

After a yearlong pandemic that puts health care front and center, Oregon lawmakers may give voters the opportunity to decide if affordable health care should be a constitutional right. 

The Senate Health Care Committee on Wednesday heard a proposed ballot measure that would let voters decide in November 2022 if affordable health care should be enshrined in the state constitution. Senate Joint Resolution 12 marks a new chapter in longstanding efforts to get the measure before voters in past legislative sessions, including 2020. In the past, the late Rep. Mitch Greenlick, a Portland area Democratic lawmaker who died last May, pushed to get the measure before voters throughout his career, most recently in the 2020 short session. 

Democratic lawmakers carrying the resolution forward now want the measure to become part of Greenlick’s legacy. It would give Oregonians the right to affordable health care, regardless of whether they qualify for Medicaid, which provides health coverage to Oregonians who earn less than about $17,000 a year for one person or nearly $35,000 for a family of four.The proposal’s language is relatively short, but it would force lawmakers and policymakers to craft policies that would put some sort of universal health coverage in place. But the ballot measure would leave the exact solution up to lawmakers. It says that “it is the obligation of the state to ensure that every resident of Oregon has access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care as a fundamental right.” 

The proposed amendment also would require the state to balance the need for affordable health care with other “essential public service,” including public schools. That requirement would apply to any action taken to enforce the constitutional amendment, such as a lawsuit.

“Health care is as fundamental as education and yet the Oregon constitution enshrines the right to education and yet is silent as to health care,” said Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton and a physician. Steiner Hayward is a chief sponsor of the resolution with Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland. 

Greenlick was chairman of the House Health Care Committee from 2007 to 2019. During that time, he spent more than a decade trying to get the measure through at least four times. Most recently, the House passed it with a 36-21 vote in 2020. The proposal died during the GOP-led legislator walkout alongside many other bills because of opposition to a carbon tax bill. 

“In 2020 we had the votes to get it out and it would have been on the 2020 ballot had we managed to get anything done in 2020,” Steiner Hayward said.

Steiner Hayward said that the measure will protect Oregonians’ access to health care coverage regardless of changes to law.

Advocates spoke in favor of the ballot measure, including Tom Sincic, president of Health Care for All Oregon.

“It is clear that the current system of providing care does not recognize ‘health care access’ as a right,” Sincic said in testimony. “Because the fundamental right of access to health care as proposed in SJR 12 is not clearly recognized as part of the general welfare, the blessings of liberty, or the safety and happiness of Oregonians, many people suffer as timely access to proper care is denied or delayed.”

No one gave testimony against the measure.

You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1


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