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
"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
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
"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.