5 Things Oregon: Health policy preview, Committee membership, Vaccine rollout

If you understand the unique character of our republican democracy, you can find calm in this anxious time. In six days, Joe Biden will be inaugurated President of the United States. He may not have been your candidate. That disappointment is a luxury of being in a democracy.

The orderly transfer of power from one administration to another is something unique to the last few hundred years among almost the entire swath of human history. It transpires again next Wednesday. I would encourage you to watch and appreciate the moment at 12:00 pm EST on January 20th, remember how unique our American experiment in self-government is. And, how fragile.





With help from Senior Reporter Emily Boerger

1. Shifts in committee membership

Committee membership and health leadership will look different this year in the state legislature. In the House, Rep. Rachel Prusak will take over as Chair of the House Health Care Committee and former Chair Rep. Andrea Salinas will join Rep. Cedric Hayden as Vice Chairs. Rep. Alissa Keny Guyer, who announced her retirement last January, and Rep. Rob Nosse will no longer serve on the Health Care Committee, while freshman legislator Rep. Wlnsvey Campos will become its newest member. The House will also see 3 new special committees along with a Subcommittee on COVID-19 which will be Chaired by Rep. Maxine Dexter.

In the Senate, Sens. Lee Beyer and Tim Knopp are the only returning members of the Health Committee. Sen. Deb Patterson will take over as Chair and Knopp will become its new Vice Chair. Also joining the committee will be Sens. Dallas Heard and James Manning. Sen. Sara Gelser will Chair the Senate Committee on Human Services, Mental Health and Recovery Committee.

2. Health policy preview

With the start of Organizational Days on Monday, lawmakers have officially filed over 1,800 bills for the 2021 legislative session. Included on the long list of bills we’ll be watching are HB 2362 and HB 2079, which would require health care entities to receive approval from OHA for certain mergers and acquisitions; SB 423 which would allow patients in Oregon to receive telemedicine services from specific out-of-state providers; and SB 432 which would require certain health facilities to pass at least 90% of state funding increases to low wage employees.

Lawmakers also offered a preview of their health priorities during a recent House Interim Committee on Health Care meeting – notably focusing on equity, affordability, and the social determinants of health. During that conversation, Rep. Salinas said she is working on a bill focused on making a public option possible in Oregon, Rep. Prusak described a bill related to reducing copays for primary care services and integrating behavioral health, and Rep. Schouten said she would bring back a bill from last year limiting cost sharing for insulin.


3. Losing the race to vaccinate Oregonians

Oregon is 27th among states for utilization of the total doses provided since vaccines were approved in December — an improvement in the last few weeks. About 35% of the total doses so far have been used for about 2.7% of the total population. A recent presentation by IHME shows at our current rate of vaccination, the US will be 20% short of the vaccinated population needed to approach herd immunity by the important date of April 1.

Researchers say we are in a race to distribute vaccines faster than the virus mutates. A new South African strain appears to “bypass immune protection provided by prior infection.” Japan said Monday it has a new strain as well. It’s not yet clear how the Japanese strain will impact the disease spread, but the South African strain does appear more concerning than the UK variant.

Last week Gov. Brown announced Oregon would deploy the National Guard to ramp up the state’s vaccine rollout. The governor has directed OHA to get up to 12,000 administered vaccinations per day by the end of this week.


4. Health impacts of climate change

recent report from OHA finds that climate change is intensifying public health crises in Oregon and disproportionately impacting communities of color. In 2020, while the state was experiencing its worst wildfire season on record, data shows one in 10 people who checked into an emergency department or urgent care clinic reported asthma-like symptoms due to air-quality levels.

Hotter temperatures and more frequent wildfires are expected to increase rates of respiratory illnesses, heart disease, heat-related hospitalizations, and deaths. To combat these impacts the report recommends supporting climate-related strategies in OHA’s State Health Improvement Plan, increasing understanding of climate change’s impacts on mental health, and collaboration with local, state, tribal, and community partners.

5. Health provisions in federal spending bill

In his latest piece, State of Reform Columnist Jim Capretta outlines some of the most significant health-related provisions in the 5,593-page year-end spending bill recently passed by Congress. He highlights the $58 billion in added funds for the public health response, surprise billing restrictions, Medicare pay boost for physicians, and the delay in the resumption of the Medicare sequester.

This new federal aid comes alongside the $800 million COVID and wildfire relief package passed during Oregon’s third special session at the end of December. The funding includes $600 million to fund pandemic-related programs and support Oregonians impacted by wildfires, along with $150 million for the Landlord Compensation fund, and $50 million in rental assistance.