Legislature Closes Session with Long Line of Healthcare Bills

Last-minute funding will provide for emergency housing assistance, Hepatitis C treatment and a short list of earmarks for clinic and hospital projects, including assistance for Cascade Aids Project’s new clinic.

The Legislature swept through a flurry of bills in the closing days of the session as the lawmakers approached their recess on Friday. Many of these came with little debate, but could still have profound effect on the health and well-being of Oregonians.

Here is a summary of these bills:

House Bill 5006

Known as the “Christmas Tree bill,” HB 5006 closes out the budget, and includes the last-minute deals that legislators struck over the Fourth of July holiday. It was hashed out with little public scrutiny and includes a windfall of tax money for its winners.

The bill includes $10 million to help the Medicaid program offset the exorbitant cost of medications for Hepatitis C, allowing people with earlier stages of the disease to get treated without blowing through coordinated care organizations’ fixed budgets.

Lawmakers also put $1.5 million under the tree to fight hunger in three nutrition programs and put $3.2 million into rural healthcare provider incentive programs, such as loan repayment.

The Cascade Aids Project is getting $1 million for the construction of the Prism Health Clinic, while the Mid-Columbia Health Foundation received $200,000 to help modernize the hospital in The Dalles. The Deschutes Rim Health Clinic in Maupin also received $1 million -- key wins for Ways & Means veteran Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles. The bill cuts $400,000 from the Oregon State Hospital budget.

The bill also includes $500,000 for the Department of Environmental Quality to do an inventory of the off-road diesel vehicles in use of the state, part of the negotiation of Senate Bill 1008, which passed in a neutered form to replace old diesel buses across the state. Environmental health advocates had hoped for a tougher bill requiring the construction industry to phase out its old diesel equipment in favor of new, clean-filtered engines.

Lawmakers approved $20 million for emergency housing assistance and state homeless assistance programs and an additional $350,000 in housing help specifically for military veterans. The funds offset the defeat of House Bill 2004, which would have banned no-cause evictions. Democrat and landlord Sen. Rod Monroe of Portland teamed up with the Senate Republicans to kill that bill.

The House passed HB 5006 on a 48-11 vote, followed by a 26-4 vote in the Senate.

Senate Bill 1062

Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, carried SB 1062 in the House, which provides $2 million to test for lead in schools and install carbon monoxide detectors, building on earlier work that she and Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, did to help schools test for poisonous radon gas. It also directs the Oregon Health Authority to develop a comprehensive means of testing for other health hazards that may be lurking in Oregon schools.

“We thought lead was being tested,” she said. “We didn’t know that there wasn’t a systemic way of doing testing in schools.”

The bipartisan bill, which also had five House Republican sponsors, passed the Senate unanimously and went through the House on a 55-4 vote.

Senate Bill 235

Restaurants and bars won back their ability to have outdoor smoking porches and patios after a previous amendment to the Indoor Clean Air Act inadvertently removed this right and the Oregon Health Authority moved to close them. The bipartisan, if Republican, bill passed the Senate 27-2 and the House 54-5 with only Democrats in opposition, including Portland Democrats, Sen. Kathleen Taylor and Sen. Rod Monroe.

SB 235 was introduced to require licenses for tobacco retailers, but this policy has now failed for the third straight session, despite a last-minute compromise from the Oregon Nurses Association. The Legislature has effectively deferred tobacco licensing laws to local authorities, who are creating a patchwork of different rules across the state, in an attempt to cut down on illegal sales to minors.

Senate Bill 419

SB 419 sets up a task force to study whether Oregon should regulate the price of services at hospitals, a practice done in Maryland. Hospital prices vary wildly from one place to another, even in the same city. Additionally, many smaller cities and rural areas in Oregon have no hospital competition, creating monopolies.

The original bill implemented the Maryland model, while the final bill merely studies the issue. But even that stoked controversy, passing the House on a party-line 34-25 vote after a more bipartisan 23-7 vote in the Senate.

The Republican opposition reflected the clout of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems in case the Legislature deigned to do anything to curb hospital costs, one of the leading cost-drivers in the healthcare system. The hospital association lost a battle to end price-gouging at the public employee health plans, as the comprehensive cost containment package fixed hospital payments at twice the rate of Medicare. Close to a dozen hospitals in monopoly markets have been charging these health plans three to four times the rate of Medicare.

Senate Bill 871

SB 871 will allow cities with lots of housing deconstruction, such as Portland, to require crews to mitigate for lead paint and asbestos for all razed homes, building on an earlier law requiring a Department of Environmental Quality inspection for asbestos.

Like the earlier law, this bill was put forward by two Portland Democrats, Sen. Michael Dembrow and Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer. It passed the Senate unanimously with a 53-5 vote in the House.

Senate Bill 719

The only successful gun control measure this session narrowly passed the House 31-28, with three Democrats -- Rep. Jeff Barker of Aloha, Rep. Brian Clem of Salem and Rep. Brad Witt of Clatskanie -- joining all Republicans in opposing this bill, which mirrors a voter-approved law in Washington.

SB 719 allows the filing of an extreme protection order with the courts to temporarily take someone’s guns away from them if they post an immediate risk to themselves or others. The bill was championed by Sen. Brian Boquist, R-McMinnville, as a means to reduce suicides. About half of all suicides involve a firearm.

Senate Bill 229

SB 229 sets up a Jan. 23, 2018, election if Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, is successful in her petition drive to tip over the apple cart for 1 million people on the Oregon Health Plan and repeal the taxes on hospitals and health insurers that will continue funding the program for the next two years.

Hospitals and most of the state’s health insurers support the new taxes since they will generate $1.8 billion in federal funding for the state healthcare industry while helping to stabilize the individual health insurance market.

Parrish says she prefers to fund the program with taxes on tobacco and e-cigarettes, but Democrats have pointed to her political consultant business and argue that she’s doing a petition drive for her own personal profit.

SB 229 passed on a party-line 34-25 vote in the House and 16-14 vote in the Senate, with conservative Democratic Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose joining the Republicans in opposition.

House Bill 2198

HB 2198 sets up the Oregon Cannabis Commission which will help the state rein in surplus medical marijuana and provide for it to be sold recreationally in the state’s dispensaries rather than flowing into the black market. “This will bring more people into the regulated system,” said Anthony Johnson, a medical marijuana advocate with New Approach Oregon.

It was supported by Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, and the Association of Oregon Counties, but opposed by some in the marijuana industry, who argued that giving medical marijuana growers access to the recreational market would be like letting home brewers sell their ale at Safeway. “Prices are going to plummet with more product coming in,” said Oscar Nelson of the Oregon Cannabis Association.

The bill passed 48-11 in the House, with all Democrats in support but it had odd bipartisan support and opposition in the Senate on an 18-12 vote. Three Democrats opposed -- Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose, Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson of Gresham and Sen. Rod Monroe of Portland, while four Republicans approved, including Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli of John Day.

House Bill 3440

HB 3440 passed both chambers unanimously -- a rare feat. It allows for Narcan or naloxone, which is used as an antidote in an opioid overdose, to be dispensed from a pharmacy to any adult, removing training requirements. The bill also integrates the policy behind a separate bill that did not pass, HB 2518.

Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, supported HB 2518, which required pharmacists to input dispensations of Narcan into the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program so that they can be tracked.

House Bill 3276

Oregon health insurers will have to cover vaccinations at university health clinics under HB 3276, if the local public health director declares an epidemic. Many health insurers, including some out-of-state plans that are not covered by this legislation, balked at paying for the expensive meningitis vaccine at a recent outbreak at Oregon State University, imperiling the Benton County Health Department’s attempts to inoculate the student body against the deadly contagion.

The bill passed the House 57-2 and the Senate 28-2, with the four most conservative Republicans in opposition -- Rep. Mike Nearman of Dallas, Rep. Werner Reschke of Klamath Falls, Sen. Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls and Sen. Alan Olsen of Canby.

House Bill 2342

The Senate passed HB 2342 on a 29-1 vote with just Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, opposing. But the House more narrowly approved HB 2342 on a 37-22 vote, giving sweeping powers to the Department of Consumer & Business Services temporary authority to set aside state insurance laws in order to rescue the market in case Trumpcare collapses the individual insurance market or Congressional Republicans otherwise succeed at sabotaging Obamacare.

House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Prineville, again led the opposition to the bill, calling for  a special session if people lose health insurance because of Trumpcare. “We should not be delegating our authority,” he said.

Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, again supported the measure, which had been amended and narrowed by two of his fellow Republicans on the House Health Committee, Rep. Jodi Hack of Salem and Rep. Bill Kennemer of Canby.

House Bill 3063

HB 3063 moves the Housing for Mental Health Fund from the Oregon Health Authority to the Housing and Community Services Department. The Legislature approved $5 million in funding for this program in 2013 and another $20 million in 2015, and about $9.2 million is left in the account, which is used to leverage private funding for housing developments that allow people with mental disorders to live in their communities.

Chris Bouneff, director of the National Alliance for Mental Illness-Oregon, testified that the money dispensed so far has created more than 300 new housing units and three dozen respite beds.

This bill passed both chambers unanimously.

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