Will Oregon Be Last Word on Universal Health Care?

Pundits and prognosticators will be pulling apart the 2002 election for months to come, trying to discern the meaning of the results, the voice of the people. Aren’t those the same thing? Possibly. In politics, however, 1 plus 1 often equals 3.

The managed care industry will partake in the post mortems as well. Look west, young executive, and you’ll see what was once called Measure 23, a proposition that held the promise of universal health care — so long as one did not reside outside a particular universe whose boundaries, in this case, correspond with Oregon’s.

Measure 23 was not only defeated, but defeated by about 3-1.

In doing so, voters “took the advice of the health insurance industry,” the Associated Press said. How often does that happen?

How did that happen? Perhaps it had something to do with voters recalling (or being reminded) that if it sounds too good to be true, it is. The Oregon plan would have been financed by a new payroll tax of up to 11.5 percent on businesses and an increase in personal income taxes, with the taxes of those paying the top rates rising from 9 percent to as high as 17 percent.

Proponents had countered that those tax hikes would be offset by the savings individuals would see as a result of not having to pay premiums and copayments.

Donald Young, MD, president of the Health Insurance Association of America, was positively crowing.

“Oregonians’ refusal to become single-payer guinea pigs repudiates those advocates who would take away people’s right to choose their own health insurance,” he said.

Advocates indicated they would reintroduce the measure in 2004.

The Oregonian newspaper in Portland reported that opponents spent $5.8 million, about four times the amount spent by advocates.

Defeating this proposal doesn’t defeat the problems that led to the proposal: rising health insurance premiums, pharmaceutical costs and, oh yes, high rates of uninsurance. Can the various health care stakeholders get these under control without government intervention? Stay tuned.

MANAGED CARE November 2002. ©MediMedia USA

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