An Oregon Perspective: Lowering Health Care Costs and Providing Choice

At the beginning of July, I
held town hall meetings in Umatilla, Polk, Clackamas, Linn, Marion, and
Multnomah Counties.  At each meeting, the most prominent issue of concern
was health care. 

People of all walks of life are paying dramatically more for
health care than they used to.  These high costs are hurting our families
and our small businesses.  Last year, we spent 17 percent of our gross
domestic product on health care; in the last nine years, costs have doubled for
the average family.  In May, Oregon’s largest insurer announced that the
average small business premium was going up 14.7 percent — on top of a 26
percent increase last year.   Health care costs are an increasing
drag on our economy and the pocketbooks of working families. 

In my role on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and
Pensions (HELP) Committee, I’ve been working with my colleagues on a plan for
health care reform that will lower costs, provide consumers with more choices,
and increase competition.

The change would work like this:  Americans who are
happy with their current health plan can keep it.  But if you don’t like
your plan and you want to look at other options, we’re going to make sure you
have a choice of quality, affordable health plans.  This will lower costs
and it will also force insurance companies to provide better services to their

One of those options will be a community health insurance
plan offered by the federal government.  This public option will be an
additional choice to increase competition, lower prices, and keep insurance
companies honest, so families won’t be entirely at the mercy of the insurance
companies.  Most Oregonians I’ve talked to – and about three-quarters of
Americans according to the polls – like the idea of having a choice of what
type of plan they want rather than having the federal government make that decision
for them.

Over the next few months, we’ll be engaging in a nationwide
discussion about the direction of health care in our country.  We’ll have
before us a choice between a system that gets more and more expensive every
year, leaves middle class families one pink slip from losing their health
coverage, and makes our businesses less competitive, or an improved model that
increases health care options, expands care, and lowers costs.  I don’t
think we can afford to do nothing.

We have a once in a generation opportunity to remake our
health care system for the better.  I invite you to contact my office and
talk to your friends and family about your opinion because we can only enact
real change if you make your voices heard.