SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon House of Representatives passed a resolution on Tuesday proposing that health care is a human right, sending the matter on to voters for final ratification.
Originally dubbed the "HOPE Amendment," Senate Joint Resolution 12 proposes to amend the Oregon constitution by declaring that every resident of the state has a right to affordable health care. Proposals to amend the Oregon constitution have to be ratified by voters in order to take effect, so the matter will appear on ballots in the 2022 general election.
“We need to send this to the voters because of the unpredictability of the future of health care at the federal level,” said Democratic Representative Andrea Salinas, who co-carried the bill on the House floor. “The marketplace needs some stability and the state of Oregon needs a path forward. We don’t need better insurance instruments, we need better access to health care.”
SJR 12 passed the House in a 34-23 vote, and was previously approved by the Senate. Republican lawmakers have broadly opposed the resolution, saying that it comes without a clear system to deliver on its promise while promising "utopian" healthcare coverage.
The proposed amendment itself is relatively simple. It would change Article I of the Oregon constitution, adding a subsection that says the state is obligated to ensure that state residents have access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate, and affordable healthcare "as a fundamental right."
Pursuing satisfaction of that right must be balanced against the public interest for funding schools and other public services, the proposed amendment reads.
“Burdensome medical bills, or medical conditions that go untreated because of a lack of financial resources, cause great strain to families and individuals all over this state,” said Rep. Rob Nosse, the bill’s other co-carrier. “They hold people back, causing them to forego starting a business, getting an education, buying a home, or having children. This amendment is a practical and sober statement of what the people of this state need.”
Because the proposed amendment adds healthcare as a fundamental right but does not posit how best to achieve that end, it's unclear what the outcome would look like. It could take the form of greatly expanded eligibility for the Oregon Health Plan, the state's Medicaid program, but the resolution — if passed by voters — undoubtedly lays the groundwork for future political debate and legislation on the topic.