Merkley, Southern Oregonians Discuss Broken Health Care System

Merkley, Southern Oregonians Discuss Broken Health Care System


Medford – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley led a health care roundtable with Southern 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 Southern Oregonians at Ogden Roemer Wilkerson Architecture in Medford, including entrepreneur David Wilkerson and grandmother Karen Jeffery.

Wilkerson is a partner at Ogden Roemer Wilkerson Architecture, an architecture firm that employs 12 full-time employees.  David’s company is dedicated to providing a family-friendly work environment and provides full medical, dental, and vision coverage to their employees.  The company has seen large annual increases in health care premiums cut into profits and has had to change carriers several times to keep costs down, wasting time and money. 

Health care costs are the second-highest expense for David’s firm, after payroll.  This year, rising health care costs forced David and his partners to look very closely at either cutting health care benefits or laying off employees.

“Rising health care costs lower my firm’s ability to compete,” said Wilkerson. “Our outrageous health care costs are the second highest expense to my firm and the number one burden for small businesses.”

Karen Jeffery, 64, is a writer who recently moved from Hawaii to Ashland to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren.  Karen was insured in Hawaii for over 30 years and continued to pay her monthly premiums even as they increased.  Fifteen years ago, Karen suffered from a broken hip and a bout with cancer.  Quotes for insurance in Oregon had premiums between $500 and $700 per month and deductibles of between $5,000 and $10,000 per year.

Due to the high costs of health insurance and the likelihood of being denied coverage if she were to get sick, Karen is forced to go without insurance for the next five months until she qualifies for Medicare.  Karen is concerned about her daughter and son-in-law, both small business employers who can’t afford insurance.  Three out of Karen’s five grandchildren don’t have insurance and Karen worries what will happen if one of them gets sick.

“I can’t afford coverage, but at my age, I can’t afford to be sick either,” Jeffery said.  “Like many people I know, I’m just holding on until I can start on Medicare.”

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