With the short 2020 legislative session about to begin, it’s a good time to remember one of the surprising successes of 2019. While last year’s session was marred by the cowardly walk-out by Republican lawmakers who could not bring themselves to vote for a cap-and-trade bill in spite of the urgent need to respond to the climate crisis, there was, fortunately, a last-minute, bi-partisan victory for Oregonians.
Health-care expert and consultant Charles Gallia, who in 2018 was the strong, though ultimately unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Senate District 20, shared the backstory of Senate Bill 770, which establishes a task force on universal health care, with Clackamas County Democrats at a recent Central Committee meeting.
Health Care for All Oregon, a statewide coalition of over 120 member and endorsing organizations, asked Gallia to help draft the bill. Gallia recalled, “You can imagine the excitement of being asked, ‘so what would you do if you started from scratch to build a system that was going to provide universal access to health care to your neighbors, your family, the next generation.” He turned to the World Health Organization to confirm which issues are key to a successful health care system. He found that most important were:
- Improving the health status of individuals, families and communities;
- Defending the population against health threats;
- Protecting people against the financial consequences of ill health;
- Providing equitable access to people-centered care; and, most important in Gallia’s eyes,
- Making it possible for people to participate in decisions affecting their health and health status.
“Oregon has a culture of leading in certain areas, and health care is one of those areas,” Gallia said. “When we built the Oregon health plan in the first place, decades ago, one of the things we did is travel around the state to many communities, listening to people along with state representatives and senators. What I learned was a deep appreciation for the values that make Oregon special. People looked ahead and said, we need to be investing in prevention, child care, and we need to be thinking about what contributes to well-being outside the medical setting, and we should have less priority on those higher risk, experimental kinds of surgeries that often don’t result in a prolongation of life, but merely in an extension of someone’s misery.
“So we used the same kind of building blocks for this bill, an opportunity for citizens to engage in controlling their own health care. When I looked at health care in other states, I found that many ended up squaring off with the insurance industry, but we are going to do this the Oregon way, working at the grassroots.