Author: Dele Oyemaja, Director of Equity & Advocacy | Project Access NOW
The short Oregon legislative session that ended Friday, March 4th (three days ahead of its Monday deadline) saw lawmakers tackle complex health policy legislation. At its core, the 35-day session reinforced an acknowledgment that our broken health care system cannot remain static without changes to address future challenges.
Usually, short sessions are considered an administrative necessary to meet deadlines and wrap up the affairs the year. This year lawmakers, in response to the urgency of the moment, accomplished a range of health care measures to address the short- and long-term impacts of the pandemic on health and wellbeing.
PANOW participated in various activities during the session by providing written testimony, testimony in support of legislation, and signed on to collaborate letters of support with other like-minded CBOs in the community. We are grateful to the legislature for acting on several bills that affect the most vulnerable in our communities and look forward to more success in the coming year.
Access to Care: SB 1529
This session, the Oregon Legislature made investments to increase access to health care for low-income communities across the state. SB 1529 requires insurers to provide three primary care or behavioral healthcare visits annually without a co-pay, removing the often-prohibitive point-of-service cost of vital care even for individuals with health insurance.
Access to Care: SB 4035
In 2020, the federal government declared a public health emergency and required states to maintain access to keep individuals enrolled in Medicaid regardless of changes to income. The emergency period is currently set to end on April 16, 2022, triggering a requirement for states to redetermine Medicaid eligibility for current enrollees. HB 4035 establishes goals for the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) as they work through the redetermination process, including maintaining continuity of care and minimizing disruption to health care access. The legislation also creates a task force to establish a bridge program that will provide affordable health insurance for Oregonians at the upper edge of Medicaid eligibility.
Access to Care: SB 4052
HB 4052, which also passed during the short session, aims to address the racial disparities in health care outcomes by establishing a pilot program. Two new culturally- and linguistically-specific mobile health units who specifically serve individuals who identify as Black, Indigenous, people of color, or members of tribes are an important first step in addressing the public health crisis of racism.
Public Health: SB 1554
Oregon has been modernizing its public health system for several years, and via the recently passed SB 1554, will study the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Oregon. Independent consultants will evaluate various elements of this response including resource utilization, emergency management coordination with the public health system, enforcement of evidence-based practices, public health workforce challenges, epidemiological and capacity issues, etc. This study will culminate in three reports, with the final report and recommendations due September 1, 2023.
Housing: $400 Million Investment
During this session, the House announced a $400 million investment package to urgently address immediate needs around homelessness, increase the supply of affordable housing, and prevent displacement. The package invests in proven programs and policies and supports local governments who are working to address community needs, with a focus on programs that can deploy funds quickly to help Oregonians.
Housing: HB 4123
HB 4123, which passed during this session, will facilitate a coordinated response to homelessness by creating eight locally-led pilot programs with counties, cities, tribes, and community organizations in the Mid-Willamette Valley, Eastern Oregon, Central Oregon, the Columbia Gorge, and coastal communities. The pilot programs will help local communities leverage existing resources to better help people at risk of homelessness, while also connecting those in crisis with shelters and pathways to more permanent housing.
Housing: SB 1536
The Senate approved SB 1536 to ease barriers to renters accessing portable cooling devices and other heat relief during severe weather events. Nearly 100 Oregonians died from heat exposure during the June 2021 heat dome and more than 500 individuals died in the Pacific Northwest region.
Senate Bill 1536 limits restrictions on portable cooling devices in residences by landlords, homeowner’s associations, condominium associations and local governments and directs OHA to create a program to acquire air conditions and filters for distribution on an emergency basis. The measure also sets requirements for new residential rental units to provide adequate cooling facilities, creates a grant program at the Oregon Department of Energy to provide assistance for purchasing and installing heat pumps, expands the Oregon Department of Human Service’s grant program for emergency shelters, among other changes.
HB 4150 creates a Community Information Exchange (CIE) Workgroup to coordinate physical, mental, and social health service delivery across the state. PANOW Executive Director Carly Hood-Ronick was deeply involved in the process from the onset by holding several meetings and work sessions in coordination with Rep. Maxine Dexter’s office. Carly also provided written testimony and testified in a hearing before House Human Services Committee. Implementation of a statewide CIE in Oregon will allow community-based organizations, state agencies, health systems, county health departments, social service agencies, and technology partners to coordinate efforts to assess and address the social determinants of health.