Oregon House Health Care Committee draws testimony on bill to create single-payer universal health care

By Bill Graves
The Oregonian, Friday, March 11, 2011

A House hearing Friday on a bill to establish a single-payer universal health care plan in Oregon drew testimony from about two dozen people, most in favor of the proposal.

One supporter, Wes Brain of Southern Oregon, held up a wedding photo of his daughter before the House Health Care Committee and described her nine-year battle with her insurance company before she died from leukemia.

"They made her life miserable," he told the House health committee. "Every step of the way."

After her teeth fell out from radiation therapy, he said, she was denied help from insurers who said that she needed dental care, not medical care.

"Please remember my daughter," he said. "I'm going to work on this the rest of my life. We can do better than this."

Supporters of House Bill 3510, a single-payer health care proposal entitled the Affordable Health Care for All Oregon Act, argued the bill would cut administrative costs, promote efficient primary care and create jobs. But opponents said the plan would foster overuse and underpay, driving away doctors and limiting services.

The bill would create a system that directs all public and private money now spent on health care into a single fund that covers everyone, a single Oregon self-insurance plan. Rep. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, author of the bill, said it would essentially extend Medicare, the federal health insurance for people 65 and older, to all Oregonians.

The single–payer proposal faces stiff political opposition, particularly in a House that is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.

But Dembrow, doctors, nurses and other health professionals argued that a single-payer system would dramatically cut administrative costs and paperwork that arise from health care that depends on a complex private insurance industry. Medicare, by contrast, has low administrative fees, he said.

Oregon could use the money it spends now on health care to extend Medicare to all Oregonians in a system that would contain costs, offer choice and create jobs, supporters said.

Dr. Paul Gorman, a physician and university instructor, said 45,000 people die a year for lack of health insurance.

"We're all one serious illness away from bankruptcy," he said.

Dr. Samuel Metz, a Portland anesthesiologist, and Dr. Joseph Eusterman, a retired physician, also testified. They belong to a group of Oregon physicians who campaigned across the country in 2009 for single-payer health care and call themselves the Mad as Hell Doctors.

Dembrow's bill "is fiscally conservative, socially responsible, morally correct and an urgently needed solution," said Eusterman.

Opponents argued a government-run health care system would raise taxes and lower the quality and accessibility of health care services.

Two members of the conservative Americans for Prosperity said the plan would lead to a bloated, inefficient bureaucracy that would drive up taxes and create only government jobs. The House Health Care Committee received 280 emails in opposition to the bill from Americans for Prosperity.

 Eric Fruits, an economist and consultant to the Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland market-oriented think tank, said the bill offers Oregonians an "all-you-can-eat" buffet.

"This is a recipe for over consumption of health care," he said. Create this buffet, he added, and "you'll find the chef has quit, and the kitchen is out of food."