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The Power of Gray

Healthcare Reform Movement Splinters

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Considering that a growing number of Oregonians are forced to go without health insurance (at last count, 602,000 between the ages of 18 and 64), the time appears to be ripe for something approaching universal healthcare. But a rift is growing between two separate pro-healthcare reform camps—and standing in the middle is the AARP.

In the past year, both former Governor John Kitzhaber and State Senator Ben Westlund have trumpeted their healthcare reform plans—and last month they held a conference pledging to unite the two proposals. Last week, though, Kitzhaber and his Archimedes Movement campaign found out that the Oregon AARP (the retiree advocacy group) wouldn't support its plan—Senate Bill 27—because they've included Medicare in the reforms.

In fact, says Oregon's AARP Director Jerry Cohen, the group feels Kitzhaber and company have singled out Medicare as the reason for "out-of-control healthcare costs." Besides, Cohen says, the state can't do much to Medicare, since it's federal.

"We don't have time to get into a food fight over the academics of these bills," Cohen says. "We want to focus on what's practical and achievable in the state legislature now."

A bill sponsored by Westlund, on the other hand, has gotten the thumbs up from the AARP, in large part because it leaves Medicare as is. Not surprisingly, Senate Bill 329 is moving through the senate, but Kitzhaber's proposal appears stalled.

So what's the problem? The Archimedes Movement wants to start a conversation at the federal level about completely reforming healthcare—including Medicare—using Oregon as a starting point. But, says Archimedes Director Liz Baxter, they're not setting out to take healthcare from senior citizens—they want access for all people.

"The notion that our ideas harm Medicare is misplaced," Baxter says. "I don't know what's harmful about a discussion."

As of press time, there was no public hearing scheduled in the senate to talk about the Archimedes plan—with the session past its midway point, that possibility is growing less likely.

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