Bill to amend Oregon Constitution lands in health committee

SALEM — State Sen. Alan DeBoer, an Ashland Republican who is a member of the Senate committee on healthcare, has come out in opposition to a bill that asks voters to amend the state Constitution to make healthcare a fundamental right.

DeBoer said that while in theory he supports single-payer health insurance, he opposes the effort to amend the Constitution.

"It'll break the state," he recently told The Lund Report, a news web site which reports on health issues. DeBoer added that he anticipates lawsuits from uninsured people and advocates similar to what Washington state faced after it guaranteed the to right to a quality public education.

Senate President Peter Courtney told the state committee Wednesday to consider a bill, a day after the House approved it along party lines. Democrats voted yes and Republicans no in the 35-25 House vote Tuesday. The Senate health care panel has three Democrats and two Republicans, including DeBoer.

If the Democratic-dominated Senate also passes the bill, Oregonians will vote in the November election to endorse or reject an amendment to the state's 160-year-old Constitution that says: "It is the obligation of the state to ensure that every resident of Oregon has access to cost-effective, medically appropriate and affordable health care as a fundamental right."

Making healthcare a constitutional right would be a first among all states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The move comes as the Trump administration has tried to dismantle former President Barack Obama's healthcare law and endorsed Republican bills to repeal expansion of Medicaid.

Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, a Democrat who chairs the Senate healthcare committee, says she wants to improve Oregon's healthcare system, expanding access to quality and affordable care for families and small business owners.

"As the price of health care spirals out of control, too many Oregonians lack the means to access even basic health services," she wrote on her official web page.

The bill's opponents have pointed out there is no funding plan that guarantees access to healthcare and warned that amending the Constitution would make the state vulnerable to lawsuits.

According to The Lund Report, Republicans are backed in their dissent by the League of Women Voters, which argued that despite supporting the concept of healthcare for all, particularly on a national level, it opposed an Oregon-only approach.

“The League cannot support an amendment for health care as a right because there is an implied state responsibility to provide the health care for all residents. This would commit the State of Oregon to expand funding to include health care coverage for all without the federal partnership," the League said in a statement. "The State of Oregon has insufficient income to support its current responsibilities and cannot provide the added cost of health care coverage for all its residents at this time.”

Those who spoke out in favor of the bill on the House floor Tuesday said no Oregonian should lack access to medical care.

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