Oregon House Democrats said Monday that they want voters to decide in the fall whether Oregonians should have a constitutional right to health care.
Gov. Kate Brown and Democratic lawmakers were pleased last week when Oregon voters approved more than $300 million in taxes to support Medicaid. Now, House leaders said they want to keep the spotlight on health care by asking voters in November to make it a right enshrined in the Oregon Constitution.
OPB first reported on the effort by Rep. Mitch Greenlick shortly after the Medicaid measure passed.
House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, said the measure is one of the top priorities for the chamber’s Democratic caucus in the legislative session starting next Monday.
“I think it’s an important time to have that conversation around health care from what we’ve seen at both the state and the federal level,” Williamson said.
House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, countered that Democrats want to use the measure as a “political talking point” during campaigns. He said everyone wants to improve access to health care, but he added the measure could lead to more costs for taxpayers.
The proposed constitutional amendment was at the top of a list of priority bills released by the House Democratic caucus Monday at a legislative preview session sponsored by the Associated Press.
The measure was unveiled last week by Greenlick, D-Portland, the longtime chairman of the House health committee. He has sponsored similar measures before that didn’t go anywhere. But Greenlick said the fight over health care at the national level has opened a new opportunity.
His measure would insert a new provision in the state Constitution saying it is the “obligation of the state to ensure that every resident of Oregon has access to effective, medically appropriate and affordable health care as a fundamental right.”
“It is my understanding that it does not set up a right of action” allowing someone to sue the state, Williamson said. Instead, she portrayed it as an "aspirational" goal for the state.
The proposed constitutional amendment can be referred to the voters by a majority vote in both chambers. It does not need the governor's signature.
Tom Powers, the Senate Democratic caucus administrator, said his members "definitely believe health care is a right" but have not reviewed the exact wording of this proposal.