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The societal debate over publicly funded health care in the United States has been ongoing for over 40 years. This is not a political issue. Human beings need access to health care.

Currently, a majority of Americans support the idea of publicly funded health care for all. In January 2017 the Journal of the American Medical Association published an editorial titled “Health Care in the United States: A Right or a Privilege.” The author hoped that “all physicians, including those who are members of Congress, other health care professionals, and professional societies would speak with a single voice and say that health care is a basic right for every person and not a privilege.”

Speaking through their state and national professional organizations, the majority of medical professionals support universal health care on an ethical and equity basis. The Oregon Academy of Family Physicians has supported national health insurance since 2009. In 2018, the Oregon Medical Association and the Oregon Chapter of the American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology approved resolutions in support of universal health care. The Oregon Nurses Association also supports universal health care. Numerous national religious organizations support universal health care. The National Catholic Reporter recently highlighted an editorial “Take the Lead on Health Care as a Right.” The National Synods of the United Church of Christ and Presbyterian Church U.S.A. have supported universal health care since 1991. Faithful Reform in Health Care, a diverse multifaith coalition of 60 national faith organizations, believes that health care is a shared responsibility grounded in our common humanity. In Oregon, the Western Diocese of the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Synod, the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, and the UCC have endorsed universal health care in Oregon.

Nationally, Oregon has been a leader in health care reform since the 1990s. In 2007, the Oregon Legislature adopted the goal of universal health care (ORS 414.018). In 2012, the Oregon Legislature created coordinated care organizations thereby giving Oregonians, who could not afford to buy private health care insurance, access to health care. Nationally, as well as in Oregon, half of all health care is publicly funded. This leaves the other half of Americans and Oregonians paying for health care out of their own resources, family budgets and salaries.

In 2013, the Oregon Legislature statutorily described the important characteristics of a universal health care system (Chapter 712 of Oregon Revised Statutes 2013). In 2016, a Rand study determined that Oregon could enact a universal health care system with no greater cost than that which Oregonians currently spend.

In 2019, Senate Bill 770A would establish a two-year commission to determine the best way forward to publicly funded universal health care for all Oregonians. Among other tasks, the commission will be charged with studying how systems such as the Oregon Health Plan and coordinated care organizations, Kaiser, Veterans Affairs, Medicare, and Indian Health Service would integrate into a universal health care system.

Increasingly, Oregonians are being priced out of health insurance. We can continue to tinker around the edges. My generation and possibly yours may “skate through,” but the current private health care financing system is unsustainable. Soon only the wealthy will have adequate care.

Each year that we delay, more families, friends and community will be priced out of health care. Your legislator needs to hear from you soon; otherwise, SB 770A will “sine die” in the Legislature by mid-June if not enacted.

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Dr. Bruce Thomson is a family physician from Corvallis. He is a member of Oregon Physicians for a National Health Program and is chair of the Legislative Committee for Mid-Valley Health Care Advocates, both of which advocate universal health care. He has served as Benton County health officer for the past 19 years. The opinions expressed here are his own, based on his experiences as a family physician for over 20 years. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the organizations in which he participates.

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