Legislators discuss their 2021 session health care priorities

Health equity, the COVID-19 response, behavioral health and universal health care were on legislator’s minds as they gathered on a panel hosted by the Oregon Health Forum (OHF) on Monday. The legislators, which included Rep. Rachel Prusak, Sen. Deb Patterson, Rep. Cedric Hayden, Rep. Maxine Dexter and Rep. Rob Nosse, all agreed that the continued rollout of the vaccine will be the most important, since that will get Oregonians back to pre-pandemic life.



Increasing access to the vaccine and educating the public on the vaccine will be the most important factors to ensure Oregonians reach herd immunity, Hayden said. Legislators are unlikely to consider a vaccine mandate because this is more likely to cause ill will among the populations that are still on the fence about receiving the vaccine.

There were also concerns that the vaccine is not reaching communities. Dexter said the delays were caused by language barriers and lack of trust in the state government. She said a key to getting those communities vaccinated will be leveraging relationships with community-based organizations. 

There was also talk amongst the legislators about how they are going to increase equity in health care, both in treatments and in the workforce. On this topic, Dexter mentioned that she was working on a bill that would create a loan repayment program for BIPOC health care workers.Nosse is also working on a bill on this topic that would work to help create diversity and equity in the mental health workforce.

Hayden cited a need for an extension of the telehealth payment parity past June 30, which is the current expiration date. 

Universal health care was also addressed. The group focused on whether a public option or a single-payer system is the best route. Noose said that the best option for achieving universal health care in Oregon is through the adoption of a robust public option. He also criticized the federal government for not making it easier for states to obtain waivers to create single-payer systems at the state level. 

Hayden believes there is no political motivation for a public option, but said a strong public option with incentives would be better received.

Prusak talked about her primary care access bill that she is working on that came out of the primary care access work group from last year. She said this bill was needed because having a dedicated primary care physician has been proven to lower health care costs. She also said that the state needs to address the fact that copays are a barrier to obtaining care. 

Measure 110, which decriminalized the possession of small amounts of drugs, was also a topic of discussion. Patterson said detox housing is one of her top priorities. This was echoed by Hayden, who said that a priority of his was making sure that there are beds available in these institutions. 

The legislators said that a key concern was both how to implement the measure and how to pay for the treatments. The measure designated a large portion of the marijuana tax funds to be used for treatments, but that tax revenue is being used for schools and other programs. 

The 2021 legislative session starts on Jan. 19.