By Lee Mercer

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The Oregon House passed a historic resolution, House Joint Resolution 203, the “Hope Amendment,” authored by Rep. Mitch Greenlick (with many co-sponsors), which would give the Oregon electorate the opportunity to vote on an amendment to the Oregon Constitution declaring health care to be a fundamental right.

In the debate over this constitutional amendment, the opposition — including a recent Bulletin editorial — most often cites that, though they believe in universal health care, they are afraid this addition to our constitution would be promising something Oregon cannot afford and the Legislature can’t deliver.

They point out the state budget shortfall, the rising cost of the state share of Medicaid and how the cost of health care might threaten funding for education and other needs.

Let’s think for a moment about what is enshrined in a constitution. It should be the values and rights that we agree upon as a society.

If our values tell us health care is a human right and we believe it is a value we need to strive to manifest in our state, should we put it in our Oregon Constitution? Should the cost of providing health care be a reason not to express our values?

When the founding fathers wrote the U.S. Constitution, had they sat down and figured out how they were going to pay for the rights enshrined in that document?

When they said “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” had they calculated all the revenue formulas for paying to provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty?

I don’t think so.

So, as Oregonians, we should view HJR 203, the Hope Amendment, as a values statement that we believe everyone in our state should receive health care. And that, by voting for this measure, we are putting a stake in the ground saying this is where we want to go. And if we work together, having this goal set, we can make it happen.

Those who feel there isn’t an affordable path to universal health care should be aware that there is work progressing to move this forward.

A study by the national RAND Corporation done for the Oregon Legislature under contract by the Oregon Health Authority basically says a financing model is possible that would cover everyone in Oregon for what we are paying now.

A bipartisan Universal Access to Healthcare legislative work group to explore ways to achieve health care for all Oregonians has recently been formed, chaired by Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego. It includes representatives of physicians, rural health, primary care, insurance companies, hospitals, mental health, business labor, nurses and health care consumer advocates.

A report from this work group is due back to the Legislature in November.

So if we as Oregonians believe health care is a human right, let’s put a stake in the ground and vote for it when the Hope Amendment reaches our ballots in November!

— Lee Mercer is a retired business owner living in Silverton. He is on the board of Health Care for All Oregon and the Main Street Alliance of Oregon.