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MailTribune.com
  • Health delivery could be lawmaker priority

    State version of DREAM Act, and funding for anti-poverty programs and education also may top legislative agenda
  • Rolling out major changes in health care delivery for Oregonians will be one of the major priorities of the Democrats who now control the Legislature.
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  • Rolling out major changes in health care delivery for Oregonians will be one of the major priorities of the Democrats who now control the Legislature.
    "I think we will have universal health care for the state of Oregon by 2017," said Rep. Peter Buckley, an Ashland Democrat who is a co-chairman of the powerful Joint Ways and Means Committee.
    The Oregon Legislature and Gov. John Kitzhaber previously have taken steps to implement an Oregon version of the federal Affordable Care Act, creating a health care system in the state that received bipartisan support because it could bring long-term savings.
    By January 2014, many Oregonians will see major portions of the new health care system in place, with more changes continuing to roll out until 2017.
    Buckley said the state still faces fiscal challenges and a very slow economic recovery as the Legislature prepares to open its session in January.
    He said he expects legislators to face tough decisions in funding early childhood education and other anti-poverty programs for children.
    Buckley said he thinks the Legislature will try to push through a state version of the Dream Act, which would permit in-state tuition for undocumented children who have graduated from Oregon high schools and are going on to a college or university.
    With Democrats in control of the House, Senate and governor's office, Republicans will have to take a back seat in most discussions. But Buckley said he still anticipates bipartisan support on 90 percent or more of the issues the Legislature will face.
    Buckley said he doesn't think Democrats will push for new taxes in the new legislative session despite pressures to increase funding of K-12 education and other programs.
    Sen. Alan Bates, a Medford Democrat, agreed with Buckley that there is enough common ground that both parties will agree on a majority of issues, while staying within a tight budget.
    He was more forceful about the possibility of tax increases.
    "Taxes are off the table," he said.
    Bates, who also is a doctor, has been a key player in putting the pieces together for Oregon's comprehensive health care reform.
    He said the program should help prevent some of the cost-shifting that occurs when people without insurance seek care at a local hospital. Those with insurance now see higher premiums to cover those without insurance, he said.
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