Oregon effort to declare health care a right falters

February 28, 2018
FILE--In this Sept. 29, 2015, file photo, the state senate gathers inside the Senate Chambers at the Oregon Capitol in Salem, Ore. Oregonians won't decide whether to amend the state Constitution to make health care a fundamental right after a bill creating such a ballot measure died in committee, with senators worried it would invite lawsuits against the state. (Brent Drinkut/Statesman-Journal via AP, file)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An effort to insert an amendment in Oregon’s Constitution making health care a right died amid concerns by lawmakers that it would expose the state to lawsuits.

Such an amendment would have been unprecedented among U.S. states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Democratic-controlled state House approved the measure 35-25 on Feb. 13, but it never reached the floor of the Democratic-controlled Senate for a vote.

Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, chairwoman of the Senate Health Care Committee, said it was never brought to a vote in committee because it did not appear likely to pass by the entire Senate.

“I firmly believe that health care is a right,” Monnes Anderson, a Democrat from the Portland suburb of Gresham, said in an email. “As a retired public health nurse I see how no access to health care affects your ability to keep a job and children to learn.”

The amendment to the 160-year-old Constitution would have obliged the state “to ensure that every resident of Oregon has access to cost-effective, medically appropriate and affordable health care as a fundamental right.”

Opponents had said there was no plan to fund making health care access a right, and warned that doing so would make the state vulnerable to lawsuits. The League of Women Voters was among the opponents. “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,” it said in written testimony.

Lawmakers have wrestled over the issue as the Trump administration has tried to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

“There were general concerns that there might be a lawsuit or something similar that might force the issue on what is now being touted as an aspirational thing,” said Rick Osborn, spokesman for the Senate Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, a Democrat from Portland, said there just wasn’t enough time during the current five-week legislative session to gain critical mass on the measure.

“The bill would have needed extensive amendments for it to get the support it needs in the Senate,” Burdick said.


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