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The Sept. 4 Review editorial said that candidates must offer 'specifics, not platitudes,' on the issues. I agree. That's why I laid out my specific views in an opinion piece earlier this year, before the May primary. I do so again to address the issue of health care.

As a candidate, I am often asked to identify my top priority if elected. This is a fair question, but it is harder than it sounds, because education, health care, transportation and climate change are all issues that require significant attention from the next Legislature. From the beginning of my campaign, however, I have said that health care reform needs to be at the top of the list.

Our health care system is utterly dysfunctional. Costs continue to rise at a rate that dwarfs ordinary inflation. According to a draft report just released by the Oregon Health Fund Board, between 2000 and 2006, per capita income in Oregon increased 18.5 percent, while the average cost of a family health insurance premium increased 74.5 percent. The consequences are predictably dire: More than 600,000 Oregonians - more than one in six of us - now lack any health insurance at all. People who are uninsured receive basic care in emergency rooms, which costs far more than simple preventive care.

The extreme costs of health care are inflicting pain on families, forcing employers to cut benefits, and causing fiscal headaches for state and local governments and school districts, sucking money away from other vital services like education. That is why I view health care reform as the No. 1 issue - the longer we let this crisis go unaddressed, the less we are able to deal with any number of other challenges.

I hope that a new president and Congress will tackle this issue. But our federal government has talked about health care reform for many decades and failed to act. Oregon, as in the past, needs to be ready to chart its own course.

One thing we know for sure is that throwing more money at a broken system is not the answer. Instead, we have to figure out how to contain costs to a manageable level so that more people can afford coverage. Several good proposals include allowing individuals and employers to pool their purchasing dollars in order to drive down the cost of premiums (a similar pooling program has been very successful in lowering the prices of prescription drugs); restoring funding for the Oregon Health Plan to reduce the number of uninsured; promoting healthier competition among insurance companies and providers by requiring more transparency, consistency, and accountability in their pricing; and reforming our health care delivery structures to focus more on keeping people healthy rather than just treating them when they are sick. These are some of the principles I will support as your next State Representative.

I can think of no higher priority for the next Legislature than to expand access to affordable health care. There is no quick fix, but we can learn much from what other states have tried, and Oregon has a history of being the first to come up with innovative reform. Inaction is no longer an option.

Chris Garrett, Lake Oswego, is a Democratic candidate for Oregon House District 38.

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