Oregon lawmakers this week introduced an intriguing bill conceived by lobbyist John DiLorenzo and sponsored by all five members of the Senate Health Care, Human Services and Rural Health Policy Committee.
There are a number of noteworthy aspects to the bill. First, DiLorenzo, a longtime Salem powerbroker, has generally been associated with Republican candidates. But he got Democrats, including committee chairwoman Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson—a Gresham Democrat and public health nurse—to sign onto his concept.
That concept is to implement a statewide sales tax that would fund health care for all Oregonians except those currently on Medicaid or Medicare. DiLorenzo has been pushing the idea for about 18 months and last year briefly considered a gubernatorial run centered on the plan.
The Oregon Health Policy & Research Office did some very preliminary analysis of the idea and determined it would cost about $10 billion annually.
Of course getting Oregonians to swallow a sales tax has proven impossible in the past. Voters have rejected sales taxes nine times. DiLorenzo says this tax is different, because money raised from it could only be used for healthcare, not for general government expenditures.
DiLorenzo says that since Oregon is one of only a handful of states (and the only one on the West Coast) without a sales tax, the state is in a unique position to implement such a program. He thinks doing so would be a boon to employment because it would shift health care costs from employers to the general public.
"What a marvelous thing it would be if we could make healthcare available to every one of our citizens, especially every child, and generate thousands of private sector jobs besides," DiLorenzo said last week in a speech to the Oregon Association of Health Underwriters. "That would rank right up there with the beach bill and the bottle bill and would be in the finest of Oregon's traditions."
The bill, which got its first reading on Monday, does not call for the tax but rather requires the Oregon Health Authority to sharpen DiLorenzo's concept into a workable system and "submit plan to interim health care committees of Legislative Assembly no later than 60 days preceding date of convening of 2012 regular session of Legislative Assembly."