Coverage of Legislature left out context for protests

Katie Jones /

The Bulletin’s reporting on Feb. 5 regarding the first day of the 77th Oregon Legislature displayed a lack of attention to detail in relating the facts of the health care rally in support of universal health care. Rather than merely characterizing the supporters as “protesters sporting red,” The Bulletin missed the opportunity to develop a broader context for its readers to understand current legislative proposals for health reform and the extensive community coalitions working to support legislative reforms.

Indeed. on Feb. 4, ten buses delivered hundreds of enthusiastic supporters from distant places such as Ashland, La Grande, Central Oregon, the Willamette Valley and coastal communities. The rally participants were health care advocates and members of Health Care for All Oregon, which is a coalition of 60-member organizations and 25 grassroots groups from around the state. These activists are dedicated to working with lawmakers to make more progress in establishing a universal single-payer health care system for all of Oregon.

The purpose of the rally was to provide public support for the re-introduction of The Affordable Health Care for All Oregon Plan Act (LC 1914) sponsored by Rep. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, and 19 co-sponsors. The legislation proposes comprehensive health care coverage to all individuals residing or working in Oregon and has a separate draft bill which would allow for formal finance hearings of the proposed health care system. It is essential to distinguish that the proposed legislation is not about changing the delivery system of health care and it bears no resemblance to socialized medicine. Instead, the legislation seeks to reform the financing of the health care system, such that the estimated 636,000 Oregonians currently without health insurance might have access to health services. Reps. Dembrow, Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, and Dave Gomberg, D-Lincoln City, encouraged supporters to organize for social change and to remain steadfast, as it is likely to be a protracted process requiring a statewide ballot measure in 2016 to enact a single-payer system in Oregon.

The health care rally included speakers who related personal stories of financial ruin, catastrophic health outcomes, family deaths due to exorbitant medical costs, barriers to access, difficulty in coordinating care with insurance companies and being un-insured or under-insured. Dr. Paul Hochfeld MD, an emergency room physician from Corvallis and representing “Mad As Hell Doctors,” spoke of the correlation of poor utilization of health economic resources and dire community health outcomes. Another advocate, Rev. Joel Miller of Corvallis, spoke from his personal business experience and concerns regarding societal costs of being able to only access health care through employment-sponsored insurance as well as the moral implications of a society that tolerates such disparities in access to affordable health care for all.

The energy of the rally was sustained by several musicians, including folk singer David Rovics performing “If Only It Were True,” and blues guitarist Norman Sylvester singing “The Health Care Blues” and “Everybody In, Nobody Out,” and it was that momentum that carried supporters to seek out their local legislators for their support. The 41 supporters from Central Oregon did indeed visit the offices of their respective state representatives and Senator Knopp to build future coalitions. These supporters will continue to advocate for reform when 28 million people will remain without health insurance, despite the implementation of President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act.

In the future, I hope The Bulletin will display more attention to the issue of health care reform and concerned citizen groups. I expect your staff to report the facts in as neutral, yet comprehensive, manner as possible. Much in the same way that I was not a “47 percenter, a taker, or dependent on free stuff,” I am also not a “protester sporting red.” I am simply a woman who worries enormously about the health of my community. Join the coalition of Oregon citizens fighting for equal health care for all.