LA GRANDE — A drive to bring universal health care to Oregon appears to be gaining momentum.
It is a movement receiving a boost from a new local organization, one Grande Ronde Valley residents will be introduced to Saturday, Sept. 19, in a rolling information center.
The new Union County chapter of Health Care for All Oregon, a universal health care advocate, will conduct a car caravan from 9 a.m. to noon to provide information on universal health care, the efforts to get universal health care in Oregon and how people in the community can help with the effort.
“We are are excited about talking to the community about this,” said Anna Maria Dill, co-chair of the Union County chapter of Health Care for All Oregon with Kate Pfister-Minogue.
The caravan will consist of about five cars displaying signs supporting universal health care. The caravan will start at Fourth Street and Adams Avenue, where people will be able to get answers about universal health care, pick up fliers and even link their smartphones to information about it.
The new Health Care for All Oregon chapter, founded in August, normally would have used a more traditional approach to get the word out about its mission, such as an information table at the La Grande Farmers Market at Max Square — if not for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health Care for All Oregon is advocating for a single public system to cover the costs of essential health care.
It is sometimes called Medicare for All since, if set up nationally, it would be an extension of Medicare, a single-payer system that now primarily serves those 65 and older. Dill said Health Care for All would be more comprehensive version of Medicare, also covering dental and mental health care.
The Legislature took a big step in 2019 toward developing single-payer health care when it passed Senate Bill 770, which established a task force on universal health care that began meeting two months ago. The task force is responsible for submitting a report to the Legislature by June 2021.
The task force has 13 voting members, including Dwight Dill of La Grande, Anna Maria Dill’s husband, who also is a member of the Union County chapter of Health Care for All Oregon.
Pfister-Minogue said there is a need for a single-payer system because health care costs are out of control in the United States, leaving many people without access to medical services because they cannot afford insurance.
“Our health care is the most expensive in the world,” Pfister-Minogue said.
It’s a cost that is yielding limited results. The United States ranks 27th in the world for life expectancy despite the fact it leads the world in health care expenses per capita, said Anna Maria Dill.
The high cost of health care also is driving one million American families to bankruptcy each year, according to Dwight Dill. He noted even Americans who have insurance are vulnerable to bankruptcy because their insurance sometime covers only 80% of their medical expenses. Dill said this means some people with $1 million in medical expenses have to pay $200,000 for health care.
The overall cost of operating a single-payer system nationally would be less than the system the United States now has because administrative costs would be lower if the government is running the system, Dill said. This is because there would be no private insurance company expenses for marketing, lobbyists and the like.
Some people refer to universal health care as socialized medicine, which is not true, Anna Maria Dill said. She explained that under universal health care, doctors would not be working for the government, as they do in nations with socialized medicine such as Great Britain.
“(Universal health care) is not socialized medicine. People say it would be run by the government. That is false,” Dill said.
Instead, doctors would remain privately employed and patients would be able to select their own physicians.
“The government would not control it. It would just pay for it,” Dwight Dill said.
He said the system would be similar to the one Canada has.
No state has a single-payer system. Dill said said that means Oregon is in a position to establish a model that others might follow.
“We could pioneer health care reform,” he said.