Merkley, Oregonians Discuss Broken Health Care System

Portland – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley led a healthcare roundtable
with Oregonians today to highlight the many problems with our health care
system and discuss ideas for fixing it.

“The stories I heard today are all
too common in Oregon and across the country,” Merkley said. “Our health care
system is broken and it is dragging down families, businesses and our economy.
Health insurance companies will accept people’s checks, but not their claims.
They will raise small business’ rates and lower their profits. This system
injures patients, crushes our economy, and demolishes families’ life savings.
It desperately needs reform.”

Merkley was joined by three
Oregonians at the Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Portland, including
Alaya Wyndham-Price and Jim Houser, owner of the clinic.

Alaya Wyndham-Price, 27, is married and lives in Lake
Oswego.  Alaya had insurance through her previous job as an event planner
and is currently on COBRA.  Six months ago, Alaya developed a tumor the
size of an olive just below her brain and has had numerous tests performed by a
neurologist to determine the best course of treatment. 

Her insurance caps treatment costs at $20,000 a year and
she’s already approaching $30,000 just for tests performed over the last few
months.   Through COBRA, Alaya’s insurance will renew in January, but
the surgery to remove her tumor will cost about $50,000.  That is $30,000
over the amount her insurance will cover. 

Alaya is trying to work as much as possible, doing freelance
writing and taking on projects, but some days she is too ill to do much of
anything.  She is scheduled to see a doctor again soon and have a $4,000
MRI test in November, but each medical visit puts her further into debt.                                                                 

“First I lost my health, then I
lost my savings,” said Wyndham-Price. “We have a system that dooms patients
into bankruptcy just to get the life-saving care they need.”

Jim Houser, 63, and his wife, Liz Dally, are the co-founders
and managers of the Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Portland.   When they
opened Hawthorne Auto Clinic 26 years ago, they made a commitment to offer
those who worked with them a good benefits package, including comprehensive
health care.  Jim and Liz are still able to provide health insurance to
their employees, but premiums have gone from 9 percent of their payroll to 18
percent in the last five years. 

“We made a commitment when we
started this business to provide health care to our staff. I don’t know if I
can fulfill that commitment anymore,” Houser said. “Outrageous health care
costs are the number one burden for small businesses. It hurts our ability to
recruit and retain employees, to grow our business, and to increase our bottom

Merkley laid out several
principles for fixing the system including:

  • Lowering
    health care costs for all Americans by increasing competition and
    investing in prevention and wellness strategies;
  • Strengthening
    small businesses by providing tax credits, stable pricing, lower
    administrative costs, and more choices;
  • Promoting
    stability for those who have insurance by ensuring that they cannot be dropped
    from coverage if they happen to get sick or injured;
  • Offering
    Americans more health insurance choices, both private and public;
  • Including
    a public health insurance option to hold insurance companies accountable
    and keep costs low;
  • Ending
    discrimination based on pre-existing conditions; and
  • Providing
    insurance coverage for over 95 percent of Americans.

“We have a choice between two
visions of health care,” said Merkley.  “In one, Americans have to worry
every day that an insurance company bureaucrat will drop their coverage when
they need it, or that the annual price spikes will make care
unaffordable.  The alternative is to reform health care in a way that
preserves the best of what we have, but finally ends the uncertainty and
spiraling costs we’ve had to live with for so long.  We must act now.”

For more information on Senator
Merkley’s health care proposals, click into