Legislature Gears Up for 2016 Session at Capitol Next Week
The Legislature is spending three days at the State Capitol next week where lawmakers will begin to outline the shape of the 2016 session.
The Senate Health Committee is expected to discuss reintroducing two tobacco policy reforms championed by Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton in this year’s legislative session -- requiring a state license for retail tobacco sales and raising the age for buying cigarettes to 21.
Both of those policies got tangled up in lengthy negotiations in the Senate Revenue Committee last session and Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, eventually concluded he could not forge a satisfactory compromise between vendors and public health interests.
Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, told The Lund Report, that she plans to pick up the baton on tobacco licensing this year and introduce a bill to expand statewide the license system that's being adopted in Multnomah County.
"If we have licensure, we could have a good enforcement program," she said, adding that lobbyists for the convenience stores and the tobacco companies, including Jim Gardner, who represents Philip Morris, would not fight such a bill this year, preferring it to a patchwork of county and municipal ordinances.
She said some public health advocates wanted stronger regulations than what Multnomah County has, but she wanted a bill that would have smooth sailing and possibly gain the votes of Republicans such as Sen. Jeff Kruse of Roseburg. "I really want a bipartisan bill."
The Legislature is convening for its quarterly legislative days to review state budget and policies but cannot pass any new legislation. Next week will likely be the last time the body descends on Salem in 2015.
Senate Health will also hear a presentation on the Department of Corrections’ health system and an overview of the looming federal excise tax for rich healthcare plans like those offered to Oregon teachers. Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, has proposed ending current health coverage through the Public Employee Benefit Board and the Oregon Educators Benefit Board and creating opportunities for public sector employees to shop on the individual insurance exchange to avoid paying the so-called Cadillac Tax that takes effect in 2018.
The House Health Committee will hear from Patrick Allen, the director of the Department of Consumer & Business Services, who will update the committee on the agency’s ability to provide an insurance option for Oregon residents who arrived from the western Pacific islands in the Compact of Free Association.
Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, asked the department to provide a means to get subsidized or no-cost coverage for this group of people, with the hope of passing legislation in 2016 to get them covered. The COFA islanders were shut out of much of the Affordable Care Act’s reforms, are ineligible for Medicaid, and are largely uninsured if they don’t have employer health coverage.
Together with undocumented immigrants, this group of legally present Oregonians is one of the largest group of remaining uninsured in the state.
Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, the chairman of the House Health Committee, said the COFA population could be helped by a Basic Health Plan on the federal exchange, and he plans to introduce legislation to help further that process along in the 2016 session.
A workgroup recommended legislation that will allow the Oregon Health Authority and the Insurance Division to coordinate their efforts as well as get updated information from Wakely Consulting on the specifics of this program, which will provide a means for working adults under 200 percent of poverty to get low-cost insurance plans with no premiums or deductibles on the federal exchange. This population will likely have the option to join a coordinated care organization affiliated with the Oregon Health Plan or enroll in commercial insurance.
Greenlick told The Lund Report he also expected a fix to regulations governing optometric health plans -- something his committee tackled in 2015, but did not quite get the statute correct.
The Portland Democrat expects the 2016 session to be a banal one, but is gearing up for a bigger session in 2017 when the Legislature will do more to tackle the state’s community mental health challenges. “We’re really going to be pushing on the CCOs about the innovations they are doing to bend the cost of care,” he said. “Mental health problems clearly drive up costs of the physical health system.”
Oregon has a particularly high ladder to climb to improve. Although the state has made numerous investments and the Affordable Care Act has provided better healthcare access than ever before for low-income Oregonians, a recent survey from Mental Health America put the state dead-last in the nation in mental health outcomes as of 2013.
Chris can be reached at [email protected].