Q&A: Minority leader Rep. Christine Drazan discusses session progress and health care bipartisanship

Oregon House minority leader Christine Drazan is serving her second term in the Legislature and became the leader of the House Republican Party after serving for nine months. Currently, she serves on the House Committee On Health Care, House Committee On Rules as Vice-Chair, Joint Committee On Ways and Means, among others. 

In this Q&A, Drazan talks about how this session has gone for her caucus, how the pandemic restricts freedoms of her constituents and the bipartisanship needed to fix health care. 

 

Get the latest state-specific policy intelligence for the health care sector delivered to your inbox.

 

Patrick Jones: How is the session shaping up for you and your fellow caucus members — both in general, and in terms of health policy?

Rep. Christine Drazan: “It has been a challenging session with the building shut down. In a typical session, we’ll have about 12 to 15 regular committees that will operate under best case scenarios. Now, we have 23 regular committees plus all the ways and means, which is our budgeting process. We’re all trying to coordinate this online experience with our constituents. The pace of the session hasn’t really been in line with what other states have done. However, in terms of COVID-19, we are among the most strict in the nation for how we’re even approaching session. So we have more committees than we’ve ever had, and we have no in- person communication, even outdoor public testimony. 

I think that there are things about this session that have been beneficial for Oregonians. Speakers don’t have to drive two to four hours to come to Salem, and wait your turn inside a hearing room. It has been a mix, and I hope we take the good from this experience and hold on to it so that we continue to be open in a digital way. I think that level of convenience is important. 

When it comes to health care, there have been proposals this session that have been controversial. I was hoping that this session would be the session where we focused on COVID response, wildfire response, balance of budget and then bipartisan technical fixes. So that is how we open the building again and get people back inside, since citizen lobbying and engagement is so important. I’ve been a little bit disappointed to see things move that are big overhauls and didn’t get to a point of consensus. We have a real imbalance of power between the parties. I think it heightens the challenge of getting benefits to the public.”

PJ: What are your caucus’s priorities for the rest of the session, given these parameters in terms of health policy and health care? What are you looking forward to?

CD: “So in this session, I am excited that we have an opportunity to take a look at driving down costs and our health insurance markets. Representative Hayden has been a champion of a modified approach to a public option where we give options to people in the marketplace that can compete and make health care affordable. Affordable health insurance can lead to better health outcomes for people because then they have coverage that they can actually use and it’s not at our reach to them. I think that it’s an extraordinary collaboration with [him] and Representative Salinas. They have been working really hard on at least getting to where we are so far this session. The other issues and reforms have been related to specific price controls.

We want to make sure that people have access to their insulin and it shouldn’t cost $300 a vial. Limiting out-of-pocket cost for that is important, but it does highlight the fact that drugs are still uneven and expensive. Finding that balance point is really the priority for our caucus because we cannot dampen the pursuit of cures. We want an industry that believes in finding cures, and that takes money and it takes brain power to do that. How do we stay on the cutting edge of the medical miracle of tomorrow without driving the price of drugs for Oregonians?” 

PJ: How do you plan to make sure that Republicans are heard and are included in the conversation about health care and health policy?

CD: “Our caucus has a lot of years of engagement on this issue. And we have experienced caucus members serving on our health care committee on the House side. They are willing to work across the aisle, and they’re bipartisan by nature. The best way to stay engaged is to maintain and preserve those relationships and show that you’re open to finding solutions. The thing that we recognize is that we have to get serious about behavior health care systems in our state. 

We can’t cobble this thing together. How are we going to develop and fund a system that supports Oregonians and their mental health and behavioral health needs? We’re not there yet. We have that we have the opportunity and we have the right people that have developed relationships and credibility on these issues to be a part of these solutions as we work together to get there. These problems are not partisan. I love that health care is like that in Oregon. Whether or not we fully fund the Oregon Health Plan is a shared value for Republicans and Democrats. So, when we get off track, there’s bipartisan voices from both sides of the aisle to fix these issues.”

PJ: What gives you hope for the remainder of the session? And how do you see the rest of the session playing out in terms of not only just health care, but also in terms of the politics?

CD: “I am committed to representing the voices of the folks that can’t be in the building, and don’t wield political power in Oregon. When you take a look at our legislative body, the last 20 years of political maps have given us a gerrymandered building. So, instead of having representation that reflects the numbers that we see, we have this kind of 60/40 split. You only get that when your political maps are really out of whack. The thing that gives me hope in this environment is that we have a caucus of people that are willing to be courageous, and willing to have a credible voice that isn’t overly partisan. It’s determined to change outcomes, determined to always be at the table. We work as hard as we can to find every opportunity to create the leverage that brings the voices that we represent to the table because that’s the way you get the best public policy. 

We will get better public policy if we’re not afraid of sitting down with people who look at things differently, and might actually be affected differently by bills that we’re proposing. And so the more we can be inclusive of Oregonians, the more we can adopt policies that can be implemented on a statewide basis without creating winners and losers. The more we can get to that point, the more cause there is for hope. We can achieve balance in our legislation, even if we don’t have balance politically, when we create the leverage to force that conversation. And it’s not always pretty, and those who might wield the power don’t want to pull up a seat at the table, but it really is the right thing to do. When we get there, the results are always better.”

This interview was edited for clarity and length