Buehler offers ‘pro-choice’ health care plan

Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend. The GOP nominee for governor on Wednesday outlined some broad goals for building on Oregon's existing health care reform.

Rep. Knute Buehler, GOP nominee for governor, unveiled his health care platform Wednesday, with some goals contrary to the views of many in his Republican base — primarily a pledge to keep Oregon pro-choice regardless of federal program changes.

Buehler is up against Democratic incumbent Gov. Kate Brown and Independent Party of Oregon nominee Patrick Starnes in the Nov. 6 election. He will need votes from Democrats and independents to win the election.

“Regardless of what happens at the federal level, Oregon will remain a pro-choice state,” he said.

Buehler, who is a physician, promised to protect Oregonians from federal cuts to the Medicaid program, which provides health care subsidies for low-income residents, and to advance the state’s innovative community care organizations.

He said he wants to integrate mental health care into the Oregon Health Plan — the state’s version of Medicaid — and in health care delivered by CCOs.

At public schools, he said, he would seek to provide on-site behavioral specialists and peer-support hotlines with CCO-provided health care.

“Health care is not a luxury: It’s a basic human need,” said Buehler, who works as a physician. “As governor, this principle will guide me in making decisions that ensure that every Oregonian, no matter your age, income or health, has access to quality and affordable care.”

By focusing on mental health care, he said he hopes to reduce the state’s suicide rate, enhance substance abuse treatment and improve outcomes — including cutting the opioid addiction rate by 50 percent, and stop the criminalization of the mentally ill.

The plan involves increasing access to contraception and reproductive care and further reduce the unintended pregnancy rate, which already is on a downward trend.

Asked how he would pay for the ambitious plan, Buehler said he would do so with cost-savings from the state budget and projected increases in general fund revenue.

A goal of his health care plan is to drive down state employee health costs by placing employees in accountable care contracts with hospital and clinic systems and reducing pharmaceutical prices through state procurement negotiations and prosecution of price gouging.

Christian Gaston, Brown’s campaign spokesman, characterized the health care plan as an attempt by Buehler “to cover up his record (of votes) on health care.”

“He can’t walk away from his record as easily as he walked away from Oregon families who need health care,” Gaston said.

For instance, Gaston said Buehler voted against a bill last year to raise revenue from provider taxes and an assessment on insurance premiums to help pay to maintain health care coverage for more than 1 million Oregon residents on the Oregon Health Plan.

Buehler said he opposed the bill because the taxes applied to mostly small businesses and exempt public unions and large corporations.

Another example, Gaston said, is Buehler’s vote against the state’s landmark Reproductive Health Equity Act in 2017. The act, contained in House Bill 3391, requires insurers to cover reproductive health care, including abortions, without cost to the patient.

Buehler said he voted against that bill because it expanded benefits to a larger pool of beneficiaries — in this case, undocumented immigrants — at a time when the state was cutting other social services.

Bill Fink, a Republican in Scappoose, commented on Buehler’s health care plan on Facebook.

“Too bad there’s not another Republican option,” Fink wrote. “I would really rather not, but it’s the choice they gave us.”

Another viewer, Garden Hawk, said she supported the plan.

“Work with CCOs and (hold) them accountable for actually coordinating care — especially incorporating mental health,” she wrote. “Like what I’m hearing!”

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