Straight from Salem: The road to a public option in Oregon

Catch up on where the bill is and how we got here.

Sophie Goodwin-Rice

As both an intern for OSPIRG and an Oregonian concerned about the high cost of health care in our state, I’ve been watching HB 2010 closely as it moves through the Legislature. This bill is centered around the concept of a public option – a new insurance plan on the Health Insurance Marketplace with lower premiums and costs designed to meet the needs of folks who don’t qualify for Medicare, Medicaid or employee-sponsored insurance. To me, this seems like a great first step towards establishing truly affordable and universal care for everyone, and I’ve been excited to see how the bill has progressed.

However, as often happens in the legislative process, HB 2010 has undergone some significant changes since it was first introduced in February. Most importantly, it no longer establishes an immediate public option program. Instead, the bill’s sponsors amended it to direct state agencies to create an implementation plan that the Legislature can use in the next session to establish the program with all the potential benefits and design options for the plan. The Committee voted to adopt this amendment and pass the amended bill on the 13th. 

Here’s a quick glance at how the bill ended up here and what to expect next: 


SB 770 passed in the Legislature, directing the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to develop a public option plan. OHA contracted a law firm called Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to analyze possibilities for this type of plan in Oregon, leading to what is referred to now as the Manatt Report. Delayed due to the pandemic, this report was released in December 2020 and outlined three delivery models for a public option health plan, but left some specific policy questions about how to implement it unanswered.


Based on the information from the Manatt Report, Rep. Andrea Salinas (D-Lake Oswego) introduced HB 2010 into the Legislature. OSPIRG is a leading supporter of this bill and has taken on grassroots organizing through Voices for Better Care and media outreach. After its first reading HB 2010 was to the House Committee on Health Care, where it awaited a public hearing.


Some committee members and stakeholders raised specific questions about how the plan would reduce costs and be offered and accepted throughout the state. In response, HB 2010’s sponsors and supporters (including OSPIRG) worked with state agencies to answer these questions. Rep. Salinas proposed an amendment which would change the bill to instruct OHA and the Department of Consumer and Business Services to build on the Manatt Report and report back to the Legislature next year with more answers.


The House Committee on Health Care held a public hearing on HB 2010 and heard testimony from legislators, advocates, constituents, union representatives, and business owners in support of the public option. Abigail Giedd described to the Committee how she has watched her premiums and deductibles increase every year, saying “When the time comes around to choose my coverage, I feel as though I’m rolling the dice – can I make it another year with health insurance more appropriate for a healthy young person, until I reach the safety of Medicare?” Jim Houser explained how insurance costs for the nine employees of his auto repair shop in Portland equaled 20% of the total payroll, adding that, “So long as employers in this country are expected to provide health care coverage for their employees, small businesses are going to have to secure a more level playing field relative to large businesses.”

Maribeth Guarino, OSPIRG’s health care advocate, testified in favor of HB 2010 and the proposed amendment, explaining that “a public option is not a silver bullet to fix the health care system, but it is an incremental step that can help people in the short-term.” However, there were also concerns raised by advocates for an immediate switch to a universal system (a system which OSPIRG supports but a process which would be nearly impossible to do quickly due to federal laws and financial cost). 

During the same committee meeting, Rep. Cedric Hayden (R-Roseburg) testified in support of his own public option bill, HB 3381, which would offer benefit plans to public employees. After listening to testimony on both bills, Committee Chair Rep. Rachel Prusak (D-Tualatin) asked Rep. Hayden and Rep. Salinas to discuss their ideas together outside of the meeting and try to come to a consensus.


The Committee held a work session on HB 2010. Rep. Salinas and Rep. Hayden proposed a new amendment with the same intent as the first but with broader language that incorporated concepts from Rep. Hayden’s public option bill to combine their approaches. Rep. Hayden was listed as a chief sponsor on the bill as well. The Committee voted to adopt this amendment and move the bill forward, and it passed unanimously.


Now that HB 2010 has passed out of the House Committee on Health Care, it has been referred to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, a committee made up of both senators and representatives who deliberate over bills that will impact the state budget. While the bill awaits a hearing and further deliberation, here are three things you can do to support a public option for Oregon:

1. Retweet our Tweet announcing the passage of HB 2010 out of committee

2. Check out and share the news coverage about the public option in Oregon

3. Stay tuned for more updates and news on this bill and our other pieces of health care legislation!

Sophie grew up in Oregon and currently attends Willamette University in Salem, where she is a senior majoring in Politics, Policy, Law & Ethics and Spanish. This session she is interning with OSPIRG on campaigns for high value health care, and plans on pursuing a career in Oregon policy and advocacy after graduating from college. In her spare time, Sophie enjoys playing the violin and spending time outdoors.


Maribeth Guarino

High Value Health Care, Advocate, PIRG

Maribeth educates lawmakers and the public about problems in health care and pushes for workable solutions. When she's not researching or lobbying, Maribeth likes to read, play games, and paint.

Find Out More