Oregon House Democrats pass universal health care proposal

Rep. Mitch Greenlick

A proposal to ask Oregon voters if access to health care is a fundamental right cleared the first of three major hurdles in the Legislature on Monday, with a majority “yes” vote propelling the referendum proposal out of the House and into the Senate.

If House Joint Resolution 202 makes it out of the Senate in early March, then Oregonians voting in the Nov. 3 election will decide if the state owes every resident “access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care.”

As lofty as the resolution is, so were the statements lawmakers made in its support.

“A healthy Oregon is a value we share,” Portland Democrat Rob Nosse said on the House floor. “I believe it is fundamental and important enough that it ought to be enumerated in our constitution as an individual right.”

The bill is Rep. Mitch Greenlick’s last chance to succeed in his many-year effort to get a right to health care into the Oregon Constitution. The Portland Democrat plans to retire at the end of the year, and his proposal faces a tight deadline and short attention spans as lawmakers race to enact other contentious legislation before the short session ends.

Greenlick’s universal health care bills failed in 2018, 2015, 2013, 2010 and 2007.

The 2018 proposal died amid questions about its potential cost, given that it didn’t address how the state would pay to ensure everyone gets health care.

The current proposal doesn’t address that, either. But it does give the state an escape route: Oregon wouldn’t have to ensure access to health care if doing so would get in the way of funding “essential public services.”

The resolution has 26 sponsors in the House and four in the Senate. Out of the state’s 38 Democratic representatives, 36 voted to pass. No Republicans voted in favor of the bill.