A Healthy Healthcare System | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

A Healthy Healthcare System

In the political campaigns shaping up for November's election, perhaps the most heated battleground is the continued tug-of-war over healthcare coverage—namely, Cover Oregon, the effort to provide reasonably priced and comprehensive healthcare for uninsured residents. Leading the charge in Oregon have been gubernatorial hopeful Dennis Richardson and Monica Wehby, who has been lambasting Sen. Jeff Merkley for his vote supporting the Affordable Care Act and has positioned herself as "The only candidate for Senate who has fought to stop (Obamacare)." And, not to be left out, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden has lobbed words like "catastrophic" and called for a federal investigation into how funds were spent, as if Cover Oregon is linked to a cover-up and conspiracy.

The tenor of this debate largely has been consumed by the sort of prize fighter trash talking that scores headlines, peppered with accusations like "Wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars" (Rep. Walden's spokesman, regarding challenger Aelea Christofferson), "Expensive mistakes" (Richardson's first TV ad, accusing Gov. John Kitzhaber of wasting $561 million on Cover Oregon) and Wehby's incessant drumbeat.

Unfortunately, though, in all this sound and fury, some significant statistics have been left out; namely, the success of Cover Oregon.

The statistics are straightforward: In a recent Gallup poll, it was found that 14 percent of Oregonians remain uninsured—a number that is still troubling, yet a huge improvement from a year ago when 19.7 percent of Oregonians were in the same vulnerable position. That drop (300,000 Oregonians) is huge and ranks Oregon as the seventh most successful state in terms of moving large numbers of its residents from uninsured to insured.

Yes, Cover Oregon stumbled out of the starting blocks. No one argues that (or, no one should). Cover Oregon's website that was meant to be a portal for easy access to healthcare turned out to be a labyrinth of frustrations and failures, and has unraveled in lawsuits.

But the candidates should stop trying to distract voters from the successes of Cover Oregon by harping on its mechanical failures. Truly, that is about as apt as blaming Amazon for a bad book, or Netflix for a bad movie.

Strangely, though, Richardson, Wehby and Walden seem to be using their anti-Cover Oregon positions as their most defining stance. And sadly, it seems to be working, even though rhetoric is far removed from reality.

Consider, for example, political coverage in the Oregonian, which has done a fine job reporting on the candidates' trash talking, but relegated information about the successes of Cover Oregon to a brief story last week on page nine, giving more significance to the Oregon football team starting its workouts.

I imagine that most people can relate personal stories about how medical costs have devastated familys' finances, like my former haircutter whose business was driven to bankruptcy in less than a year while she tried to finance hospital expenses for her uninsured son's leukemia treatment; and like family friends, whose dad was a physician and nearly had to sell their home of 30 years to pay for emergency services after their son, four days after graduating from law school and uninsured, broke his neck surfing in Mexico.

And I'm sure that each of those 300,000 Oregonians who have gained medical insurance over the last year—a whooping 5.7 percent of the state's population; a not-insignificant portion of the voting block—don't want to hear about how Cover Oregon is a failure.

Perhaps it is time for Richardson, Wehby and Walden to change their tune.

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