Merkley, Oregonians Discuss Broken Health Care System

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 line.”

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 www.merkley.senate.gov