Six Oregon legislators sat down this week to discuss health care in the state and what their health policy priorities will be heading into the next legislative session, which will convene on Feb. 1, 2022.
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Sen. James Manning Jr. (D – Eugene), a member of the Joint Task Force on Universal Health Care, Sen. Deb Patterson (D – Salem), chair of the Senate Interim Committee on Health Care, and Rep. Marty Wilde (D – Albany), a member of the Joint Task Force on Universal Health Care, represented the Democrats.
Rep. Suzanne Weber (R – Tillamook) and Rep. Ron Noble (R – McMinnville), members of the House Interim Committee on Health Care, Rep. Lily Morgan (R – Grants Pass), vice-chair of the House Interim Committee on Housing, and Rep. Boomer Wright (R – Coos Bay), a member of the House Interim Committee on Behavioral Health, rounded out the Republicans.
Below are highlights from each of the panels.
Policy Leadership: Democrats
- Rep. Wilde explained that mass vaccination sites aren’t as accessible for kids. Instead, he said the sites should also be located in doctors offices, community health centers, schools, pharmacies, and other community-based sites.
- Wilde also explained that Oregon has underinvested in school nursing and has erected too many barriers against bringing private nurses into the school setting, something he’d like to see changed in the future. In particular, he’d like to see community connections established between coordinated care organizations’ private health care providers and school-based health centers.
- Wilde stressed the importance of a collective vaccine effort, between the federally-qualified health centers, rural health centers, and tribal health clinics in vaccine development efforts.
- Sen. Manning Jr. highlighted SB 770, which established the Task Force on Universal Health Care. He said he’s fully committed to a universal health care system for the state.
- Manning Jr. also said he’s focused on improving health care affordability, particularly for small businesses that want to provide health plans for their employees but can’t do so because of costs.
- Sen. Patterson said she’s watching progress on HB 2362, which was signed by Gov. Kate Brown on July 27, 2021 and will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022. HB 2362 requires approval from the Department of Consumer and Business Services or Oregon Health Authority before any mergers, acquisitions, contracts or affiliations of health care entities and other entities if they meet or exceed specified thresholds in average net patient revenue or in gross amount of premiums. Patterson spoke about her experiences with health care in underserved communities, and believes bills such as HB 2362 will help ensure that people have access to affordable care options.
- Patterson mentioned that the legislature needs to address the issues of quality, safety, cost, and the mal-distribution of care based on income, race, and ethnicity.
- Wilde expressed the need for a larger nursing workforce, which he said, needs to be done at the state level.
Policy Leadership: Republicans
- Rep. Wright expressed the continued need for mental health wellness checks during the next legislative session, regardless of where people reside.
- Rep. Weber mentioned that the legislature needs to start looking more seriously into the behavioral health and rehabilitation of children, particularly after her experiences as a teacher with children who were facing abuse while at home. She attributes inadequate funding for counselors and support staff to this issue.
- Rep. Morgan stated that legislators need to continue the conversation surrounding taxes on medications, which has prompted pharmacies in stores such as Bi-Mart to shift away from the prescription medication business.
- Rep. Weber said legislators need to address patients’ inconsistent access to both doctors and physicians. She described a situation where she hurt her knee but couldn’t see a doctor because she needed a referral. The referral was unattainable because there were no available physicians. She was instead sent to the emergency room, which only drove up the costs for her treatment, despite having health insurance
- Weber also mentioned that many families who live in rural areas often don’t see the UPS or FedEx truck go by, which may impact their ability to have drugs delivered to their door. Rural access to medications is an issue she wants the legislature to address.