Massive Reform Bill Inches Forward

Cost saving measures come first while harder decisions are left for next legislature

April 30, 2009 -- Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) has done his part. As chairman of the House Health Care Committee, Greenlick passed the most sweeping piece of healthcare reform legislation this state has ever seen.

Now the measure is sitting in the Joint Ways and Means Committee for consideration.

House Bill 2009 would consolidate multiple healthcare agencies into a single entity known as the Oregon Health Authority. At the same time it directs several cost saving steps that together would save an estimated $5.4 billion over 10 years.

Greenlick’s committee deferred, however, for another two years the question of what to do for thousands of individuals denied health insurance or forced to pay more because of pre-existing conditions. 

“The committee was not willing to go that far,” said Tom Burns, who drafted HB 2009 and is a consultant to Greenlick. Originally, the legislation would have developed an insurance exchange where people could purchase health coverage, but it lacked momentum. “There were a lot of people who just didn’t feel comfortable.”
Lingering questions remain about the best approach to cover everyone, how to lower insurance rates and whether to impose an individual or employer mandate. 
Nevertheless, Oregon lawmakers are sending a strong message: Better to tackle costs first, before setting out to cover everyone.
“An insurance exchange would have allowed individuals and small groups to go down a process that led to choices,” said Sen. Alan Bates (D-Ashland). “We don’t want to build a bridge to nowhere. We don’t want to build an exchange and then find out on the other side there’s nothing waiting for you. In the next 12 to 18 months, which isn’t very long, we’ll develop programs that the exchange will lead to.”
Opponents of House Bill 2009 say it creates more bureaucracy by consolidating multiple state agencies into the Health Authority. 
“It seems to me they're saying the most important thing we need to do first is create more government,” said Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg). “I think we’re better served taking advantage of the resources we have in (Department of Human Services) rather than spending $11 million to create a new agency and immediately hire 30 new people to manage it.”  
See our related stories on individual rejections and rate regulation.

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