A Public Option for Oregon?

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The public option – government-supported health insurance offered as an alternative to private plans – was a non-starter in Congress, but Oregon could end up with its own version.

Anyway that’s the idea of state Sen. Alan Bates, who says he wants to head the effort to bring a public option to this state.

“We really have a good chance of setting up a public option here,” the Ashland Democrat told the Medford Mail Tribune.

Bates aims to take advantage of an amendment to the national health care reform legislation inserted by Sen. Ron Wyden that permits states to develop their own health care programs, provided they get the necessary waivers from the federal government.

Bates, who’s a practicing physician, said he’s been meeting with Wyden and state health officials to try to figure out how to expand the present Oregon Health Plan to offer a public option. Within two or three years, he said, the expansion could lead to universal health care coverage in the state.

At least one Republican legislator – Dennis Richardson of Central Point – indicated he could be open to Bates’s idea. “I know there is a need to have access to health care,” he told the Mail Tribune, noting that even families with health insurance often are overwhelmed by out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Richardson wants to see any expansion of the OHP take significant steps toward controlling costs. “Reform is often discussed, but rarely implemented,” he said.

“I think [a public option plan] could be worked out, but it will only be possible if the Republicans are involved in the crafting of the bill, rather than be ignored as often takes place,” Richardson said.

That’s all well and good – as long as Oregon Republicans are interested in really negotiating and not just stalling and obfuscating as their counterparts in Washington did.


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