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Local government insurance pooling bill gets first legislative hearing
Updated On: Feb 26, 2013
Oregon AFSCME Executive Director Ken Allen

HB 2279 is one of AFSCME's top priorities at the 2013 session

One of Oregon AFSCME's top priority bills for 2013 received its initial hearing on Feb

One of Oregon AFSCME's top priority bills for 2013 received its initial hearing on Feb. 22 when HB 2279 was introduced for public hearing before the House Health Care Committee.


HB 2279 would allow local government jurisdictions — cities, counties and special districts — to take advantage of statewide pooling for health insurance. Both Oregon AFSCME Executive Director Ken Allen and Political Director Joe Baessler testified on the measure. AFSCME tried to move bills in both the 2009 and 2011 sessions that would have created new, local government-specific pools; both bills failed for a variety of reasons. Allen and Baessler believe HB 2279 has better traction.


Rather than creating another new statewide pool, HB 2279 would allow local governments to participate in one of the two already existing pools — PEBB, the Public Employees Benefits Board that provides a pool for state employees, or OEBB, the Oregon Educators Benefits Board, the statewide teachers pool.


"Health care benefits and insurance are increasingly our No. 1 issue at local bargaining tables, more so than wages," said Allen. "The concept is simple: the bigger the pool, the more risk is shared and the lower the rates offered by insurance companies. This bill could really help our members in city, county and special district jurisdictions — and would help those jurisdictions, too."


Allen noted that local governments are often on their own with limited options for health care for their employees. The smaller and more rural the jurisdiction, the less the options.


"We believe this bill would create an attractive option and allow local governments to get some relief from the rising cost of health care," said Allen.


Larger local jurisdictions may tend to gravitate toward PEBB, which relatively speaking provides higher levels of coverage. OEBB, says Allen, could be a good place for smaller jurisdictions, as that pool has several different options and levels of coverage.


Baessler notes that as drafted, HB 2279 may need a couple of tweaks in the weeks ahead. For example, AFSCME would like to add local government seats to the PEBB and OEBB boards as the two agencies begin to add local government members.


"Sometimes bills don't come back from legislative counsel drafted exactly as you envisioned them," said Baessler. "HB 2279 is one of those that we'll need to amend a little before we're through. However, we wanted to get Ken in here, get the ball rolling, have the initial hearing and start the bill moving. The changes aren't major, and we have plenty of time for amendments."


House Health Care Committee Chair Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) is the bill's chief sponsor. State Rep. Jim Thompson (R-Dallas), one of the GOP members with the best AFSCME voting record over the years, is a primary co-sponsor. Again, Feb. 22 was the bill's first public hearing; another is likely to be scheduled. Greenlick would then need to schedule a work session on the bill to move it on to the Senate. Additionally, as there would be some fiscal impact involved, the bill could very well be detoured to a Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee as well.


"It's a process," says Baessler. "The important thing is that the process has now begun."


Potential opposition to HB 2279 would most likely come from the Association of Oregon Counties, the League of Oregon Cities and the Special Districts Association of Oregon. All three groups have insurance plans they sell to their respective jurisdictions. Allen noted in his testimony that AFSCME's support for local pooling wasn't a debate on the merits of those organizations' insurance plans.


"Our members consistently want another option," he said.


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