SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Senate on Thursday approved a resolution that would ask voters to decide whether the state is obligated to ensure that every resident has access to affordable health care as a fundamental human right.
The resolution, whose aim is to amend the state Constitution, was approved along party lines, with Democratic senators in favor and Republicans opposed. It next goes to the House in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
A similar effort in 2018 was approved by the House but it died in committee in the Senate. If it had been put on the ballot and approved by voters, it would have been the first constitutional amendment in any state to create a fundamental right to healthcare.
“Every Oregonian deserves access to cost-effective and clinically appropriate health care,” said Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner. “Oregon’s Constitution should reflect that truth.”
If the House passes the bill, voters would be asked to consider amending the state’s 162-year-old Constitution.
Republicans said any promise to ensure all Oregonians are entitled to health care lacks financial backing.
“The bill doesn’t fund any system to deliver on that promise,” Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod said. “If Democrats are serious about giving Oregonians free health care, they should come up with an actual plan.”
The resolution says the state’s obligation must be balanced against funding public schools and other essential public services.
Senate Republicans claimed in a statement that the League of Women Voters of Oregon has opposed this measure “because of its obscurity.”
But in a Feb. 15 letter, the League of Women Voters of Oregon said it supports the resolution, and called it “simply an aspirational bill.”
This year, as the coronavirus pandemic persists, “will be pivotal for national and state health care reforms,” League President Rebecca Gladstone and healthcare specialist Bill Walsh wrote. “It’s time to continue to do our part in this effort by involving voters in the process.”
Asked to explain why Senate Republicans claimed the League has opposed the resolution, caucus spokesman Dru Draper pointed out that the League had opposed it in 2018.
A League president — Gladstone’s predecessor — had sent a letter in opposition in 2018, saying the state couldn’t afford “the added cost of health care coverage for all its residents at this time.”
But Gladstone said things are different this time.
“We are pleased to see provisions added to this 2021 bill that will balance health care with the public’s interest in funding schools and other essential public services,” Gladstone said in an email late Thursday. “This seems to be a direct response to the League’s work on the 2018 bill, when we advocated for provisions that would protect funding of these essential services.”