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Health reform still plans Salem campaign

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

SALEM — This won’t be an easy legislative session for health-care reform. It was one of the 2007 legislative session’s biggest stars; this year it plays second fiddle to the economy, jobs and economic stimulus.

That’s not to say that everyone in the statehouse has given up on reform. In the first week of the session in January, two of Salem’s most prominent Democratic reform advocates — Portland’s Rep. Mitch Greenlick and Medford’s Sen. Alan Bates — announced a coalition of groups that were challenging the Legislature to fix the state’s broken health-care system within the session’s first 100 days.

Business groups were also active. In the two weeks leading up to the start of the session, three of state’s largest health-industry-related political action groups — Coalition for a Healthy Oregon, Oregon Hospital Political Action Committee and Health Insurance Political Action Committee — contributed more than $40,000 to legislators on both sides of the aisle.

Michael Becker, who serves as the Health Insurance PAC’s treasurer, is the director of legislative and regulatory affairs at Regence Bluecross Blueshield of Oregon.  According to Becker, the topic of health care is large enough that it won’t be eclipsed by bigger stories this spring. Health care is very intertwined with economy, he says. For example, when there’s an increase in unemployment, there’s an increase in the number of uninsured, which has far-reaching implications. Finding ways to address those costs is “how we stay front and center when the economy is aiming to steal all the headlines,” he says.

“Certainly the economy complicates things,” Becker says of the session. “But it doesn’t remove the desire for reform.”                                    


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