Monnes Anderson speaks on Cover Oregon, healthcare bills and work ahead during the interim

Despite what some criticized as a less than fruitful short session, Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson believes it went fairly well, but left much work to be done before the start of the 2015 regular session.

Monnes Anderson, who has been East County’s state senator since 2004, was disappointed the Interstate 5 bridge replacement project died during the session.

“I was one of those who wanted the Columbia River Crossing,” she said. “But the votes just weren’t there.”

The retired public nurse also expressed her frustration with Cover Oregon. The health insurance exchange had rolled out with an unfinished website and left many Oregonians confused and without insurance.

At the start of the session, legislators introduced new accountability and transparency measures to repair the system and prevent a similar debacle in the future.

A bill was passed to bring on a systems manager to oversee massive projects like Cover Oregon, which it was lacking. Other accountability measures included allowing the governor to fire board members of Cover Oregon, and make reports and audits available to the Legislature.

Another bill passed to extend the deadline for those on Oregon Medical Insurance, who couldn’t get insurance through Cover Oregon and extend the enrollment period for them to March 31.

Following the website malfunction, Gov. John Kitzhaber requested an audit in mid-February of many people who had worked on Cover Oregon and several legislators on its oversight committee, including Monnes Anderson.

“They wanted to know who knew what (and) when,” Monnes Anderson said.

She said the tragedy of the roll out was legislators had no idea Cover Oregon wasn’t meeting deadlines.

“If we had known early on, I know red flags would have gone up and we would have stated we need to do something different,” she said.

The senator didn’t know there were errors with the website until she read it in the newspaper.

“And here we’ve spent millions of dollars on an IT project and we don’t even have a good result,” she said.

Monnes Anderson said Cover Oregon is exploring options on whether to keep its technology contractor, Oracle, or go with another system.

“It’s still working, but I think not as good as it could,” she said.

The senator remains optimistic that if continued, Cover Oregon will be successful in getting insurance to Oregonians.

“We have over 200,000 who have insurance out of 600,000 that didn’t have insurance before,” she said. “If you look at the goal line, that is what we wanted. We wanted to have more people getting insurance.”

Personal bills

Monnes Anderson points to success in a number of health care bills she worked to pass on her agenda. Among them was SB 24, which advances the practice of telemedicine, which would allow patients to seek doctor consultation through teleconferencing.

“This is an example of a health care delivery system that makes sense for patients and physicians, is cost effective, and saves time,” said Monnes Anderson, who is chairwoman of the Senate Health Care and Veterans Affairs committees.

She cites her daughter, who just had a baby, as an example of someone who would benefit from the legislation. Because the mother is tired and breastfeeding, she doesn’t want to have to go into the doctor for a brief visit.

“If we had telemedicine, she could call in and talk to her doctor (via some form of electronic communications).”

Monnes Anderson said telemedicine also would be useful to rural Oregonians, who have limited access to health care services, particularly specialists.

The telemedicine bill passed with the addition of a work group.

Another of her bills that passed updated Oregon statutes that reference “physician” to include “physician assistants” and “nurse practitioners,” in order to accurately reflect current practice.

Monnes Anderson also chief-sponsored SB 1577, or what’s being called the Silver Alert Bill.

Signed into law by Gov. Kitzhaber, the bill will require law enforcement agencies to draft policies for dealing with older and vulnerable adults with dementia who wander away and go missing.

This bill also rang close to the senator’s heart.

“My dad loved to go walk when he was living at Courtyard Fountains,” Monnes Anderson said.

When his wife was alive, the couple were known to walk far from home and dine at Heidi’s Restaurant in Gresham. But when she died, “Dad wandered, and if friends hadn’t found him, who knows what could have happened to him,” she said.

Some agencies already have policies in place to locate missing elderly adults, but the new law requires all to have one. Policies can include training for officers, developing a protocol for coordinating efforts with other agencies and adjoining communities, designing briefings for the media and alerting the public to help find the missing person.

Aside from health-related bills, Monnes Anderson also was excited about SB 1563, which becomes effective Feb. 26. The bill aims to increase access to loans (from $70,000 to $100,000) for small businesses in rural areas.

For the 2015 session, the senator said she would like to work on a bill that focuses on smaller loans ranging from a few hundred dollars to $5,000 for East County people who have small business start-ups.

Not every bill Monnes Anderson worked on passed, but she is content to know conversations have started on some of the more complex issues that require more work before the start of the 2015 session.

SB 1508 aimed to modify registration requirements for sex offenders so as to lift the burden off smaller police departments who register them.

The bill did not pass, Monnes Anderson said, but caught the eye of Republicans and Sandy Police Chief Kim Yamashita, who are interested in addressing it further in a work group.

Monnes Anderson also sponsored a bill that would have banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and included e-cigarettes in the state’s indoor smoking ban. HB 4015 was one of two bills on electronic cigarettes that did not pass and will be discussed in interim work groups.

“We at least got the topic out there, and I know we will be addressing that issue and have more research on it in 2015,” Monnes Anderson said. “Many of these issues are so complex and have so many special interests. We have to make sure we can come to a compromise.”

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