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Oregonians Have Nuanced Views On Health Care

OPB | Oct. 3, 2013 5 a.m. | Updated: Jan. 3, 2014 2:10 p.m.

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Seventy percent of Oregonians believe all people should have equal access to a basic level of quality health care.

That’s one of the findings of the Oregon Values and Beliefs Project, a wide-reaching collection of surveys designed to take the pulse of Oregonians on issues that matter to them. The project paid particular attention to health care, although it didn’t ask any specific questions about changes coming with the Affordable Care Act.

Judy Clark-Guida was one of the survey participants. She’s a retired educator who now lives on a small farm in Pedee, southwest of Monmouth. 

Judy Clark-Guida.

Judy Clark-Guida.

“I think a civilized country and a country of our wealth, I think that should be a basic premise,” Clark-Guida said. “Not all elective type surgeries, but I do believe that everyone deserves a basic level of health care.” 

Adam Davis of polling company DHM said Oregonians have a nuanced view of health. Sixty-four percent of survey respondents would support a system that rewards healthy behaviors like diet and exercise.  

“They would rather see a system that invests in wellness and prevention rather than continuing down the road investing in pharmaceutics and medical devices,” Davis said. ” At the same time, they’re telling us that it’s up to the individual.” 

In other words, Oregonians are true to their pioneering roots. They believe people have to take responsibility for their own health and not count on the government. 

“I see so many people doing unhealthy things,” said Larry Smith, a retired teacher from Jacksonville. “We can talk about Big Macs and stuff like that. But it goes much more beyond that. It’s the drugs, it’s the alcohol, it’s the sedentary lifestyle. And then all of us end up having to pay for it.”

Smith is one of the 72 precent of respondents who support higher premiums for people who engage in unhealthy behaviors. The strongest support for linking premiums to lifestyle was found in rural areas of the state.

Byron Womack, a 26-year-old missionary worker from Sisters, thinks it’s a good idea. But he also sees problems. 

“I don’t think everyone has the opportunity to live healthy,” Womack said. “People in lower income areas are the ones who are smoking the most and eating the worst. So if you introduce something like that, you’re cutting off those people from being able to use the health care.” 

He said poorer people may live in neighborhoods where it’s difficult to get fresh food, for example. And any move to have a system that rewards healthy eating, would make it harder for them to climb out of poverty. 

“Having struggled with weight all my life I kind of thinks it’s probably not quote-unquote ‘fair.’ But certainly there’s a case to be made about that economically,” said Warren Jones, a retired engineer from Mulino.

So are private health insurers moving to link diet and exercise and premiums?

“I haven’t seen that kind of break down in plans yet,” said J. R. Hinds, a health insurance broker from Portland. “I think the actuaries would love if they could do that, to parse out the risk where it was highest or lowest. But it hasn’t happened yet. I haven’t seen it.”

But there are efforts, particularly with state workers in Oregon, to link healthy lifestyles and benefits. Time will tell if the idea catches on. 

The Oregon Values and Beliefs survey was conducted in April and May. It polled the general population, not just registered voters. 

Fifteen percent of respondents said they had no health insurance, 57 percent had private insurance while another 15 percent were covered by government insurance, like Medicaid or the Oregon Health Plan.

Click here to learn more about the Oregon Values and Beliefs Project.

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