Oregon could become the first state in the country to have universal health care, if Measure 23 passes on November 5. The proposal, called the “Oregon Comprehensive Health Care Finance Plan,” would eliminate most health care expenses, including co-payments and deductibles, that are currently paid by employers and individuals, according to the Portland Tribune. Instead, increased taxes on businesses and residents would finance health care in the state, with small businesses paying around 3 percent and larger businesses paying up to 11.5 percent in taxes to fund health care in the state. Individuals would pay additional taxes of up to 8 percent of their income, though families living under 150 percent of the poverty line would be exempt, according to the Tribune. The plan would cover a wide range of medical treatments, including therapeutic massage and acupuncture, if they were deemed “medically necessary” by a licensed health care practitioner, according to the Associated Press. The single-payer health care system would be run by a 15-member “finance board” created by Measure 23.
As women’s health care costs are traditionally higher than men’s, this would likely have a significant impact on women. Measure 23 has been endorsed by the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Gray Panthers, and the NAACP Oregon, Alaska, and Washington Conference, as well as other progressive groups.
Sponsors of the referendum point to the need for universal health care as evidenced by rising health care costs and the number of state residents without health insurance. There are currently 443,000 state residents without health insurance, according to the Census Bureau. The most current poll, conducted by the Portland Tribune, found that 36 percent of voters supported the plan and 39 percent opposed it, with a very large 25 percent undecided. Oregon’s plan follows the failure of Bill Clinton’s attempt in 1994 to provide a health care plan in which all employers were required to provide health insurance to their employees, as well as the defeat of universal coverage proposals in at least 10 other states. Currently, political candidates in several states are campaigning in support of universal health care, according to the Washington Post.
Next week is important for the campaign to pass Measure 23, as Oregon residents vote by mail and all ballots must be received by Nov. 5. The “Yes on 23” campaign is run on a budget of $22,000 by two volunteer staff members, both 22 years old. Opponents of the measure have raised $600,000 in an attempt to defeat the measure, according to the Tribune.