State Rep. Michael Dembrow wants to establish in Oregon what the White House and Congress couldn't do in last year's healthcare reform effort: single-payer health care.
And a bunch of like-minded folks are coming to Portland to pitch the same idea—at the Oregon Single Payer Conference this Saturday, Jan. 29, at First Unitarian Church.
For those needing a refresher, single-payer would create universal health care, funded from a single insurance pool. It's a "monopsony" (buzzword for your next cocktail party), meaning that several money streams—like progressive income tax, corporate tax and state funds—would all go into one pot that covers everybody's healthcare costs in Oregon.
"In a nutshell, it's Medicare for everyone," says Dembrow.
Dembrow and his fellow Portland Democrat, state Sen. Chip Shields, face an uphill battle in the Legislature, which is focused on dealing with a $3.5 billion budget hole. Even if the bill to establish single-payer in Oregon succeeds, it will have to jump through a second hoop in 2014 and win a three-fifths legislative vote to get funded—because that's the year reform advocates hope states can begin experimenting with health care.
"It's going to be tricky," admits Dembrow.
Among the bigwig national healthcare speakers lending support for single-payer at the Jan. 29 conference is Dr. Margaret Flowers, the congressional fellow of Physicians for a National Health Program. She lists four benefits for single-payer.
The average Oregonian would pay less in premiums and deductibles out of pocket—despite an increase in taxes to fund single-payer—because it would lower administrative costs and distribute overall costs more widely, Flowers says. Secondly, she says, young people would have better career prospects because people in their 50s wouldn't feel obligated to stay with jobs just to keep their health benefits.
The average primary care physician would spend $60,000 less per year dealing with insurance companies, she estimates. And a fourth benefit she lists is that small businesses would be revitalized because they wouldn't be carrying the weight of employees' healthcare costs.
The keynote speaker will be 23-term U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), a single-payer advocate who gets healthcare advice from activist Joel Segal.
"There's a perfect storm brewing for single-payer," says Segal. "Unemployment is high, states are cutting their Medicaid programs, employers are dropping health coverage, and union people are getting angry. The government will either cut more programs, or people will demand change.
"Single-payer health care is going to take a movement where people say, 'We're not going to take this anymore,'" says Segal. "Viva la revolution."