Oregon will be the first state to make affordable health care a constitutional right

By Ben Botkin, Oregon Capital Chronicle, November 15, 2022

Oregon becomes the nation’s first state to enshrine the right to affordable health care in the constitution.

Ballot 111 was narrowly passed, with nearly 50.7% of voters in favor and 49.3% of voters against. The measure’s long-term impact on Oregon health care is unclear because it does not prescribe how the state should ensure that everyone has affordable health care.

Measure 111 amends the Oregon Constitution by adding, “It is the duty of the state to ensure that every resident of Oregon has access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate, and affordable health care as a fundamental right.”

The measure, proposed in a joint resolution by two Portland Democrats, State Representative Rob Nosse and State Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, was voted on in the legislature on a party line in 2021 and went to the ballot.

Proponents of the measure say Oregon is a national health care leader and a constitutional amendment is the next logical step to protect and expand access to health care.

“I think it indicates that there are a large number of people in Oregon who feel very strongly that access to affordable, quality health care is very important,” Senator Deb Patterson, D-Salem and chair of the Interim Senate Health Care Committee, said. in an interview. “Health care is really complicated and implementing it will be a challenge that everyone will do their best for.”

Paige Spence, director of government relations for the Oregon Nurses Association, said the measure’s approval is a statement that health care is a right to protect for the future.

“Oregon has always been a leader in health care reform, and the passage of Measure 111 is a clear indication that Oregon, unlike other states across the country where access to health care is becoming more difficult and costly, is committed to ensuring that our communities benefit from affordable, high-quality healthcare,” Spence said in a statement.

But critics warned the measure would lead to costly lawsuits that the state would have to fight with taxpayers’ money. Former Representative Julie Parrish, now a law student at Willamette University, wrote a piece published by the American Bar Association that said lawsuits could come from a mix of people in Oregon, including those who are insured but unhappy with their coverage because the measure that does not say whether having insurance meets the amendment’s requirement of “access to” health coverage.

About half of Oregon residents are insured through their employer, and about a third are insured through the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s version of free Medicaid coverage. Only about 150,000 people have an individual policy through the federal market, and fewer than 1 million are covered by Medicare, which insures people age 65 and older and people with disabilities. Currently, about 6% of Oregonians are uninsured.

It’s unclear how much it would cost to cover them. The measure recognizes it could add costs to the state budget, but leaves budgetary decisions to state legislators, who say it “must be balanced against the public interest in funding public schools and other essential public services.” Those services are not defined.

FEATURED IMAGE: People without insurance often use emergency care for health care, driving up costs. (Lynne Terry/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

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