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Doctor wants Oregon to lead way to basic right

If measure passes, sponsor sees 'avalanche' of support

Believing that health care is a basic right, retired Portland doctor John Partridge is a longtime, passionate advocate of universal health care.

He remembers the recession of the early 1980s, when Oregon's timber industry collapsed and many of his patients lost their jobs.

'Those patients with diabetes who needed continuing care weren't able to come in,' says Partridge, 81, who lives in Southwest Portland. 'They had lost their insurance, and it was really catastrophic for them.

'I always told them to come in and forget about paying.'

Partridge Ñ whose specialties were internal medicine, endocrinology and geriatrics Ñ retired in 1993 after 56 years of practice, 46 of them in Portland.

Since his retirement, he has spent most of his time trying to establish a health care plan for Oregon that would guarantee coverage for every resident of the state.

He is a primary sponsor of Measure 23, the general-election proposal that would create a universal health care system in Oregon beginning in 2005.

'I talked to a number of people when I was leafleting or gathering (petition) signatures who said they were unemployed or between jobs and didn't have health insurance,' Partridge says.

'Or they were on the Oregon Health Plan, then got a job and weren't on the health plan anymore but couldn't afford health care.'

He thinks that Oregon's current health care system is wasteful, unfair and illogical.

'What we need to do is prevent people from getting sick in the first place,' he says. 'The costs of medical care would go down.'

Here's what else Partridge wants voters to keep in mind about Measure 23:

• Under Measure 23, only 5 percent of the plan's costs would be spent on administration, such as billing and other paperwork. Currently, administrative costs are at least 25 percent of health care costs and sometimes much more, Partridge says.

'Doctors' offices, in my experience, have two or three employees who do nothing but fill out insurance forms,' he says. 'That's so much health care that can't be delivered to people.'

• Measure 23 is not 'socialized medicine' because doctors and other health care workers would remain private.

The plan creates a public, nonprofit corporation administered by a 15-member board that would negotiate fees and reimbursements with doctors and hospitals. Initially, administrative costs would include setting up quality-assurance and uniform billing systems.

Partridge also says voters should consider the new payroll and income taxes created by Measure 23 as 'health care premiums' that would replace all health care expenses now paid by employers and individuals, including premiums, co-payments and deductibles.

For individual taxpayers, premiums would average $200 a month, he says.

• Measure 23 is 'revenue neutral' Ñ that is, it would take in as much as it paid out in premiums.

• Though employees of insurance companies and other office workers would lose their jobs, 1 percent to 2 percent of Measure 23's budget would be spent on retraining and re-employment for the proposal's first two years.

For Partridge, the bottom line is that a universal health care plan guarantees peace of mind about health care to everyone in the state.

'If we can get this plan going in this state, it will lead to an avalanche of support and the need for Congress to enact a national health insurance law,' he says.

'That's the way Canada did it, province by province. It has to be pushed. Every other country in the world has done it.'

Contact Mary Bellotti at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .