The effort to make health care a constitutional right in Oregon has gained added support.
Former Gov. John Kitzhaber, who created the Oregon Health Plan, lent his backing to the potential ballot measure, and the Oregon Nurses Association made a major donation to help get the initiative before voters in the fall.
The HOPE initiative, a creation of Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, Sen. Ben Westlund, who is running for Oregon governor as an independent, and Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, would amend the Oregon Constitution to say that access to health care is a fundamental right. It would also force the Legislature to develop a plan to meet that obligation by 2009.
The initiative does not outline how the access to health care would be delivered.
"Our solution is totally open," Greenlick said. "First, let's establish the principle in the Constitution."
The initiative has collected close to 80,000 signatures so far, Greenlick said, and it needs 100,840 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. The group has collected about $300,000 to market its message and recently received $75,000 from the Oregon Nurses Association.
"It's just an issue people are concerned about," Greenlick said. "It's an easy sell."
The initiative could also pave the way for any design coming out of Kitzhaber's Archimedes Movement.
Kitzhaber has been holding packed community meetings around the state for the Archimedes Movement. The effort aims to gather citizens' ideas on how to create a better health care system and use their activism to pressure politicians to adopt their concept.
The goal, backers said, is not to work within the current system but to design a new one, which provides health care to all Oregonians and uses current funding more effectively.
Kitzhaber said he hopes to have a design before the 2007 Legislature.
Although the HOPE initiative and the Archimedes Movement were designed separately, backers of both agreed the two are complementary because the HOPE initiative forces lawmakers to move to action and the Archimedes Movement outlines the steps.
"It's much easier for the legislature to take action if there is something that has been designed with a lot of input and support from the outside," Kitzhaber said.
—The Associated Press