Crisis symptoms already starting to show

The federal government and the private health insurance industry have failed to prevent a health care crisis in our state.

Huge numbers of Oregonians have no health insurance. Others pay for such costly health insurance that they can afford little or no actual health care. All of Oregon's public institutions are facing skyrocketing and unstoppable increases in health care costs, which significantly diminish the quality and quantity of services that need to be provided to the public.

The Oregon Community Health Care Bill is designed to control public employees' medical coverage costs and provide affordable health care to other Oregonians who have either very expensive coverage or none at all.

At a recent City Club of Portland meeting, Oregon's top professional campaign managers unanimously declared health care to be the central issue in the race for governor.

During Tom Potter's term as mayor, the city of Portland and the Portland school board will spend $50 million in increased health care costs. Proportionally similar increases can be found in every city, county and school district in our state. Every candidate for public office in Oregon must put health care at the top of his or her agenda. Our people are in peril, and our public treasuries are bleeding to death. We must and we can stop this.

The Oregon Community Health Bill( a politically centrist solution to Oregon's health care crisis capable of attracting support from left and right Republicans and Democrats, urban, suburban and rural, because it:

1. Is market-driven. Each procedure is assigned an average market price. The providers that charge less than the assigned price generate a credit of the difference for the client. Participants who choose a provider charging more than the assigned price pay the difference out of pocket. Participants may choose any professional health care provider in the United States.

2. Removes the burden from businesses of providing health care and places it on the state of Oregon.

3. Reduces health care costs to public institutions in Oregon by 20 percent.

4. Provides actual health care, not just health insurance. High-cost, high-deductible insurance does not pay for basic health care, only catastrophic illness. Dental, vision, physical checkups and other preventive procedures identified by a wide variety of health care professionals will be included at the top of the covered procedures list.

5. Eliminates the term 'pre-existing condition.' If the procedure is covered, you're covered.

6. Provides affordable health care Ñ on a sliding scale according to income Ñ as good as that received by any public employee in Oregon to anyone willing to make a commitment to Oregon for one year as a registered voter.

This bill is not a panacea. It is not universal health care. Its limits on costs and participation recognize the reality that to succeed in the legislative arena, a bill must have the potential to attract a majority of votes. The Oregon Community Health Care Bill has that potential.

This war to make health care affordable for Oregonians and Oregon's public institutions will not be won by ballot measure but rather a grass-roots effort to persuade at least half of Oregon's 1,500 elected officials to support the Oregon Community Health Care Bill. I have committed the next six years of my life to making that happen.

Richard Ellmyer is president of MacSolutions Inc., author of the Oregon Community Health Care Bill, and writer of Oregon Health Watchers.

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