New Coalition to Advocate for Universal Health Care in Oregon

'Oregon's current health care system is neither humane nor cost-effective' (Ore.), Feb. 4, 2012

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Delegates from 28 unions, nonprofits and grassroots organizations gathered in Portland on Friday, January 27, to form a new coalition that will advocate for universal health care in Oregon and the U.S. Seven labor unions joined with 21 community organizations to sign the membership agreement, approve bylaws, and elect an interim executive committee.

The coalition grew out of a partnership between four organizations – Health Care for All–Oregon, Portland Jobs With Justice, Mad As Hell Doctors (MAHD) and Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP). Two years ago these organizations formed the Oregon Single Payer Campaign (OSPC), which last year organized a conference at the First Unitarian Church in Portland attended by 500 people. OSPC also spearheaded the introduction of HB 3510 last year in the Oregon legislature by Rep. Michael Dembrow (D-HD 45). HB 3510 would create a single-payer financing system that guaranteed universal access to health care for all Oregonians, including the more than 600,000 Oregonians who do not have health insurance. Rep. Dembrow was in attendance at the founding meeting of the coalition.

The goal of OSPC was to get the issue of universal access health care on the table, since its advocates had been shut out of the federal health care reform debate,” said Michael Moore, delegate from Sisters of the Road and newly elected interim president of the coalition. “The goal of the new coalition is to engage all communities across Oregon in a conversation about what we can and should expect from our health care system. We think providing universal access, as almost all other industrialized nations do, is the only truly humane and cost-effective system available. We need a broad and diverse coalition of organizations to help us understand how to take that message to all the constituencies we need to reach.

Oregon's current health care system is neither humane nor cost-effective. The only health care resources available to many uninsured adults are hospital emergency rooms and pay-for-service options at some clinics. Even in communities such as Scappoose, only 21 miles from Portland, the Oregon Health Sciences University clinic does not accept uninsured patients. In Oregon, it is estimated that the cost of uncompensated care for uninsured and under-insured adults and children will exceed $1.1 billion in 2012.

Rosalie Pedroza, delegate from the Rural Organizing Project, said, “In rural communities, many areas don¹t have insurance options, and facilities are limited. Current cost increases are unsustainable; we need affordable health care for all.”

The unions signing on to the coalition's founding are: American Federation of Government Employees Local 2157, Communication Workers of America Local 7901, Laborers Local 483, National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 82, National Association of Social Workers ­ Oregon, Oregon Nurses' Association and Service Employees International Union Local 49. The nonprofits joining them are: Alliance for Democracy, Center for Inter-cultural Organizing, Community Alliance of Tenants, Elders in Action, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Health Care for All Oregon, Health Care for All Oregon–Eugene, Jobs with Justice-Central Oregon, Jobs with Justice–Portland, Jobs with Justice–Southern Oregon, Mad as Hell Doctors, Mid-Valley Health Care Advocates, Oregon Action, Oregon Latino Health Coalition, OSPC-Florence Organizing Committee, Physicians for a National Health Program–Eugene, Mid Valley and Portland, Rural Organizing Project, Sisters of the Road. The Tree Institute, and Universal Health Care for Oregon. Six affiliated or pledged organizations were unable to attend, and ten organizations sent delegates as observers.

The coalition does not plan to introduce legislation this year. In the near term, it will focus on grassroots community organizing and outreach. It plans to meet again in six to eight weeks to elect a full board of directors, develop a strategic plan and finalize the selection of a name.