Rep. Rob Nosse (D – Portland) served as vice chair of the House Committee on Behavioral Health during the 2021 session and as co-chair of the Ways & Means Subcommittee on Human Services. . He recently spoke with State of Reform about health policy from 2021 and what his priorities are heading into the next legislative session, which is set to convene on Feb. 1.
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Ethan Kispert: How have things looked for health care in Oregon over the past year?
Rep. Rob Nosse: “Well, we’ll see what the Omicron variant brings us. We had a tough fall with Delta. Luckily both Governor Brown and the Oregon Health Authority were able to find some additional financial resources and were able to reach out to both FEMA and nurse staffing agencies across the United States to bring in some additional resources both for our state hospital and for our private sector hospitals that seems to have calmed down.”
EK: You mentioned hospital staffing. Do you think adequate staffing is a significant challenge in Oregon?
RN: “There’s about 62 hospitals in the state and only two are for-profit. The rest are not-for-profit. Some of them are tied into very big not-for-profits like PeaceHealth, Providence, OHSU, and Kaiser Permanente. They operate like larger businesses, even though they’re not organized around the principle of making money. All of these big hospital systems are all struggling because they don’t have enough nurses. They’re working a lot. Their staff are complaining about burnout due to COVID. Hopefully [Omicron] won’t be as bad as Delta was this fall. It’s probably not going to get much better.”
EK: Do you feel enough has been done legislatively for health care in Oregon?
RN: “We made some pretty historic investments in our behavioral health system during an hour-long session in spring, but they’re all long-term investments in terms of trying to attract more people into this profession.”
EK: What are your priorities leading into the next legislative session in 2022?
RN: “Implementing all of the bills that were passed, particularly around behavioral health [is a top priority]. Lots of employers all across our state and across the United States have been experiencing challenges with both retaining and attracting a workforce. This has been a really acute problem in the behavioral health space. We’re working on bills to try to provide some additional financial resources to behavioral health providers and employers so that we can keep a workforce and attract people. We made a lot of long-term investments, but we don’t have anything short-term to get people paid better in this sector. So that’s something I think we’ll be working on in the short session in February.
There’ll be bills about primary care and public health options. Those will be big things. I am paying attention to what’s going on with Oregon Health Plan eligibility. We have a lot of people on the Oregon Health Plan right now. Because of the pandemic, the federal government is allowing us to keep people [on Medicaid] and there’s a lot of anxiousness about redetermination eligibility as well as getting those applications processed. So that’ll be a thing that I’m paying attention to.
We’ll have some sort of bill around behavioral health funding in the short session here in February of 2022. State Senator Kate Lieber and I are running a legislative workgroup. We’ve been meeting once a month since October, listening to various behavioral health actors, employers, sectors, advocates, trying to get from them ideas about things we could do to make the system work better in our state. Hopefully that will lead to bills from the two of us for the 2023 session.”
EK: Anything else we should be watching other than what you’ve mentioned?
RN: “If you’re not following [Senate Bill 755], I think that’s an important thing that you should keep track of. [SB 755] came to the legislature to be sort of fine tuned and implemented. The bill is about decriminalizing the possession of drugs in small amounts in our state. It also addresses substance abuse treatment options as well. That’s the thing I’ll be paying attention to. It’s just getting off the ground as well.”
EK: So you mentioned some of your priorities in an earlier answer. Do you have any additional priorities?
RN: “In Oregon, legislators only get two bills for the short session. I have one around payment parity for naturopaths to have them be compensated better, like primary care physicians, when they’re doing primary care. I’ll also have a bill around getting more resources to arts and cultural organizations and entertainment venues who are still struggling to recover from the pandemic.
The chair of the Behavioral Health Committee is Representative Tawna Sanchez, and she graciously agreed to give me one of the committee bills. So each committee gets three bills, and that’ll be the vehicle for the behavioral health wage package that we’re working on.”
This interview was edited for length and clarity.