Last month, the Democrats not only had strong showings in congressional, senatorial and gubernatorial races but also cleaned up in state legislative contests around the country, winning a large number of seats and gaining control of several chambers around the country. As I wrote leading up to the election, these state legislative victories are important for a number of reasons, including replenishing the base of Democratic candidates from which to draw during future elections; stregthening control over states in the period leading up to the next redistricting cycle; and, perhaps most importantly, serving "as incubators for the progressive policies that will make up tomorrow's Democratic Party platform."
Already we are starting to see a movement in that last area. Here in Oregon, where the Democrats retook the state House for the first time in 16 years and will hold the trifecta come January, progressives in the legislature are beginning to look at a universal healthcare program that could serve as a model for legislation on the federal level in the future. The Oregonian's Bill Graves has the story.
A Senate commission has endorsed the framework for a universal health care plan for Oregon that it will ask the 2007 Legislature to approve.
The commission's draft bill lacks crucial details, such as costs, but it does outline a broad proposal for dramatically changing how Oregonians would buy and receive health care.
"We are trying to do something that has not been done in this state or this country before," said Sen. Ben Westlund, an independent from Bend who co-chairs the Senate Interim Commission on Health Care Access and Affordability. "All eyes are once again on Oregon.
Commission leaders, who met Friday in Wilsonville, say the plan would give every Oregonian a health card that could be used to buy a complete health care package -- including dental, mental health and vision coverage -- for less than most businesses and individuals now pay.
In addition to the goal of expanding access, the plan includes features to control costs and improve quality. The same three goals for comprehensive reform are being pursued by the Oregon Health Policy Commission, the Oregon Business Council and former Gov. John Kitzhaber's Archimedes Movement.
There is still room for debate over the details of a plan, specifically looking into ways to fund a universal program using existing healthcare dollars (including Medicaid dollars, which I imagine would be subject to the approval of Congress) and new revenue streams (potentially a new payroll tax that would reimbursed to companies that already provide insurance for their workers). There will no doubt also be a need to figure out the particulars of the spending structures of any eventual program.
But the fact that Oregon's progressives are moving forward with a plan to ensure that everyone in the state has heathcare coverage is a great step in the right direction -- particularly given the Congress' continued inability to provide coverage to the tens of millions of Americans without it. And while the Oregon plan may not be the solution -- it's not even certain to pass even with Democrats in control of the legislature and the governorship -- it could nonetheless continue to move the debate forward so that eventually we can live in a country that values life to such an extent that its citizens are able to receive treatment for their medical problems (and I'm not talking about deporting progressives to Canada...).