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By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 11 January 2006

Former Gov. John Kitzhaber, who has been publicly mulling over whether to make a run for his old job, is outlining a sweeping health care reform proposal for the state that could wind up on the November ballot.

In an interview with a local paper, Kitzhaber called for every resident of the state to receive at least basic health care coverage. He's proposing that state officials put pressure on the federal government for waivers on the use of billions of dollars for Medicare, Medicaid and employer tax breaks in order to pay for a top-to-bottom health care reform.

Such a proposal could end or dramatically shake up traditional Medicare, Medicaid and employer-paid health insurance programs and could face strong opposition from business, unions, and retirees.

"We're way past incremental reform," Kitzhaber, a former emergency room physician and an architect of the Oregon Health Plan, told the newspaper. "Tinkering around with a fundamentally flawed system won't get you where you need to go."

Under Kitzhaber's plan, Oregon would get control of all the public health dollars spent in the state, including federal Medicaid and Medicare money, state funding for the Oregon Health Plan and taxes the state currently foregoes because employers are allowed to deduct what they spend on employee health insurance.

With those waivers, Oregon could set up a system that provides at least a basic range of coverage for all residents, such as prenatal care, treatment for high blood pressure and care for other common but often costly ailments. The new plan wouldn't limit those who choose to buy their own insurance.

Kitzhaber, a Democrat who was governor for eight years, from 1995 to 2003, has convened an advisory committee representing seniors, low-income residents, hospitals, insurers, unions and employers. They are helping draft what could become a ballot measure or a legislative bill that would define the principles of the new health care system, much the way the Oregon Health Plan was created.

If he goes the initiative route, Kitzhaber said he wants it before voters in November. If approved, he predicts the plan would become a key issue in the 2008 presidential race.

— The Associated Press

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