Republicans, Democrats agree coronavirus will shape future health care policy

Republican and Democrat legislators in the House Interim Committee on Health Care agree the coronavirus pandemic will be the lens through which Oregon’s upcoming health care policies will be focused.


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For Republicans, lack of rural access to health care and the growing concern over increased mental health issues are top concerns.

“We need to expand our workforce in a manner that gives greater access to everybody, especially those in our rural communities,” said Rep. Raquel Moore-Green.

Rep. Cedric Hayden agreed.

“Before COVID, we had a hard time getting providers out into the rural communities,” he said. “Now many can’t provide access due to COVID and we are creating a backlog of health care.”

He pointed out Oregon currently has 31,000 health care providers that were furloughed due to the pandemic.

Mental health issues are being made worse by the pandemic and are affecting Oregonians across the state, and especially those in rural areas, said Rep. Gary Leif.

“Mental health remains the biggest challenge in rural Oregon and is a complex issue,” he said. “It’s probably the number one health care priority in the state.”

Coming out of the pandemic, mental health issues will become even more prevalent, said Rep. Ron Noble.

“We will have more addiction and mental health issues that we will need to recover from,” he said. “I’m concerned about revenue shortages. How can we assist those who have been marginalized in our community and how do we get them access to health care?”

The Democrat panelists said the pandemic magnified the racial health disparities.

“We are witnessing disparities with the disproportionate rates of infection and death of COVID among the Black and Brown communities,” said Rep. Andrea Salinas. “My hope is that we will seek to close those gaps.”

She expects the pandemic will spur a new push to collect racial, language and disability data that can be used to assess how well the state addresses equity issues in health care.

Rep. Rachel Prusak agrees.

“The dehumanization of Black and Brown people is a slow motion violence that quietly eats away at the health of individuals and families,” she said.

Despite much progress, Salinas believes Oregon has a long way to go to providing health care for all.

“We still have 260,000 Oregonians without access to health care through public or marketplace insurance plan,” she said. “And in 2017, 8% of families still had trouble paying medical bills.”

Like Republicans, she sees mental health treatment as a top priority of the state. She would like to see more mental health providers of color and with cultural competency, even if that means contracting with out-of-state providers that provide services via telehealth.

Fellow Democrat Rep. Rob Nosse says the state is still in good financial shape, though another surge in coronavirus cases that prompts a second economic shutdown could negatively impact the budget.