In this edition of “5 Things We’re Watching,” we bring you some of the early conversations, issues, and health bills we are tracking during the 2022 legislative session. We have a detailed look at health policy being discussed in the House, a conversation with the chair of the Senate Committee on Health Care, and an overview of Senate and House Democrats’ legislative agendas.
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State of Reform
1. Q&A: Committee Chair Sen. Patterson
Prior to the start of the legislative session, we caught up with Sen. Deb Patterson, chair of Oregon’s Senate Committee on Health Care, to discuss her priorities for the short session. Patterson highlights two bills that are currently in committee—one that would expand access to procedures and medications to address infertility, and another that would establish a brain injury resource facilitation center.
She says the committee will also focus on an “omnibus bill” that includes technical fixes related to pharmacy policy and an expansion of scope of practice for pharmacy technicians. All three bills have either public hearings or work sessions scheduled for today at 1pm.
2. Gov. Brown highlights health in State of the State
During her State of the State address last week, Gov. Kate Brown highlighted three areas of investment that her office is prioritizing this session. The first is the Future Ready Oregon 2022 plan, which includes $200 million in workforce investments. Specifically, the plan allocates $92.5 million to expand investments in programs that provide career opportunities for underserved communities, and $95 million to provide resources to remove barriers and provide connections to employment, job trainings, and career advancement opportunities.
Alongside workforce supports, Brown proposed a $100 million investment in child care. Child care, she said, is a basic necessity and one that is “just as critical to our economic recovery as infrastructure.” Brown also called on legislators to invest an additional $400 million in affordable housing.
3. Democrats outline legislative agendas
Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate released their policy focus statements on the first day of session last week, charting the course for this year’s short legislative session. Bolstering the health care system, increasing access to care, and focusing on economic recovery were shared points of interest.
Senate Democrats’ agenda highlights strengthening community-based services, expanding access to affordable housing, and strengthening the workforce. House Democrats similarly highlighted investments in the health care workforce, and included access to reproductive care, public health, and access to behavioral health services in their agenda. The House Republican Caucus released a statement saying the short session is about budgetary and technical fixes to legislation, while also noting that the caucus “will push to remove roadblocks to health care access.”
4. Health policy in the House
Last week, lawmakers on the House Committee on Health Care held public hearings on two bills that aim to improve health outcomes for Oregonians. The first bill, HB 4052, would require OHA to provide grants to operate two culturally and linguistically specific mobile health units as pilot programs. The units would serve populations with histories of poor social or health outcomes.
Jessica Nischik-Long with the Oregon Public Health Association submitted testimony in support of the bill, stating that the bill “creates an opportunity for our state to move past faceless data analysis and consider that those disparities are occurring for real people.” The second bill discussed, HB 4083, would require health plans to pay for at least three physical or mental health primary care visits per year, in addition to one preventative primary care visit, without cost sharing. Both bills have works sessions scheduled for this Friday.
5. Hospitalizations may have peaked
According to projections from Oregon Health & Science University, COVID hospitalizations likely peaked over the weekend in Oregon and are now expected to rapidly decline, reaching pre-omicron levels by March. While this is positive news, it means that hospitals continue to face high levels of resource strain.
With the expected decline in hospitalizations, state officials announced on Monday that the state will remove general mask requirements for indoor areas no later than March 31. Mask requirements in schools will also be lifted at the end of March. During the past week, the average number of newly diagnosed cases in the state has dropped by about 40%, though hospitalizations have remained above 1,000 per day.