Editorial: SEIU takes a better approach to health care reform

Published Mar 2, 2014 at 12:01AM

The problem with the five health care ballot measures that Oregon’s Service Employees International Union Local 49 proposed in October was that their need was evident to the SEIU but not at all evident to anyone else.

Now the union has taken the much better strategy of working with providers, instead of forcing all of the changes at the ballot box.

The measures are all about ideas in health care that have merit — transparency, cost and quality.

Some seemed to make some sense. Others seemed unseemly.

For instance, one required hospitals to post their usual costs for common procedures. Another wanted more posting of quality data by hospitals.

It’s easy to see how both of those could help consumers make better health care decisions. There are questions, though, about how easy it would be to find a typical cost and how well quality data would be presented so consumers could use it.

Another proposed ballot measure was a visceral stab at salary equity. It suggested that a hospital’s chief executive should only be 15 times the salary of the lowest-paid employee.

But should voters be able to dictate how much a company pays its employees?

We don’t think so.

Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office apparently played a role in getting the SEIU to sit down at the table rather than fight at the polls. That pressure and the SEIU’s decision saved voters from what was likely to be an expensive campaign about complicated issues.

We can’t fault the SEIU for working to improve the system. But health care reformers seem to have only two speeds — push hard for dramatic changes and push harder for dramatic changes. If we have learned anything about improving health care, it’s that Oregon should move carefully.