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September 28, 2022

Legal Implications and State Budget Ramifications if Voters Vote “YES” for Oregon Senate Joint Resolution 12 on Their November 2022 General Election Ballot

By Julie Parrish


On November 8, 2022, Oregon’s 2,967,042 registered voters1  will be given the opportunity to weigh in on Senate Joint Resolution 12 (SJR 12).2 The resolution puts the question to voters of whether they should amend the state constitution to include language that not only enshrines healthcare to be a fundamental constitutional right, but that failure to deliver upon that right creates an individual private right of action against the state.Along with legislative guidance published in the voter’s pamphlet, voters will have just 190 official words on their ballots from which to make a decision that could have monumental implications. Additionally, the inclusion of paid voter pamphlet statements by organizations that seek to financially benefit from the measure’s passage will be part of the basis of “voter intent” for future litigation.4

If SJR 12 is enacted, not only will the requirement become a tremendous cost burden to state and local government budgets, but it will likely be an actual burden on the resources of healthcare delivery and healthcare benefits by employers, medical practitioners, and the entire healthcare system moving forward. Most critical to this discussion for voters to understand is (1) the budget impacts on the state and how the state might cost-shift the obligation to other governmental jurisdictions, employers, and even voters directly, (2) the state’s police powers to enforce the provision by requiring practitioner participation through the licensure system, and (3) Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) exemptions to state statutory schemes implemented after passage of SJR 12. 

Legislative Background

The ballot measure that is now enrolled as SJR12 has been in some version of a draft legislative concept since at least 20075 when then-House Health Committee Chair Mitch Greenlick first proposed the concept for consideration. Until 2017, the idea never had a committee vote to advance the concept, but in 2018, the measure (with slightly different language from SJR 12), moved out of the House Health Committee where Rep. Greenlick was still committee chair, and passed on a party-line vote on the House floor.  The measure died in the Senate for lack of a further committee process.6  In 2020, Rep. Greenlick passed away while in office7 and the mantel for his vision of a constitutional right to healthcare was picked up and reintroduced by Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, a practicing family physician.8

Though the final language of the measure being referred to voters has evolved since its first iteration, the version headed to the ballot for voter consideration on November 8, 2022, reads as follows:

PARAGRAPH 1. The Constitution of the State of Oregon is amended by creating a new section 47 to be added to and made part of Article I, such section to read:
Section 47. (1) It is the obligation of the state to ensure that every resident of Oregon has access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care as a fundamental right.
(2) The obligation of the state described in subsection (1) of this section must be balanced against the public interest in funding public schools and other essential public services, and any remedy arising from an action brought against the state to enforce the provisions of this section may not interfere with the balanced described in this subsection.

However, for most voters deciding a YES vote based on the limited information available prior to the election,9 it will not be immediately apparent that passage of an aspirational idea will create significant budgetary and healthcare delivery issues in order to implement the constitutional right created by the measure.  Moreover, the inclusion of a constitutional, individual private right of action against the state set forth in subsection (2) of the proposed language sets the stage for intense legislative debate and judicial litigation to interpret voter intent in passage of the measure.  A review of written testimony highlights that even proponents of the measure failed to realize in their advocacy for SJR 12 that a private right of action was being created with passage of the resolution and that it will likely spur future litigation.10

Budgetary Impacts and Cost-Shifting Burdens

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the need for Oregon’s Medicaid program expanded from nearly 1.1 million covered lives to over 1.4 million covered lives.11  While Oregon’s original Medicaid expansion under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act covered lives at up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, expanded coverage during the pandemic allowed lives to remain covered without a redetermination process of eligibility.12 To achieve this level of support, the Oregon Legislature made investments of state general funds, federal funds, lottery funds, and other funds in the amount of $30.15 billion (26.7 percent of all total state-available resources) into the Oregon Health Authority in the fiscal biennium of 2021 to 2023.13  Those funds reflect a combination of state contributions and Medicaid match funding from the federal government. Even with the growth in the Medicaid population, Oregon still has an uninsured rate of nearly six percent of the population or an estimated 226,000 lives.14

If, after passage of SJR 12, the legislature made the policy leap that remedying the inequity of the fundamental right issue for the uninsured population would be to simply expand the Medicaid capitation program to include those uninsured lives, based on the most recent capitation rate average, the legislature would be short over $2.5 billion in Medicaid funding biennially.15 However, covering the lives of the uninsured population will not be the end of the discussion, as the measure’s language is silent on whether just having insurance coverage for all meets the requirement of “access to” health coverage under the proposed amendment.  Insurance coverage alone covers a myriad of combinations of what is and is not reimbursable care, and subsection (2) in SJR 12 assigns the obligation of the healthcare right to the state, and not directly to private or public insurers. Assumedly, if SJR 12 passes, an underinsured resident would have just as strong a private right of action against the state under subsection (2) as an uninsured patient if the insurance coverage he or she was relying upon could not deliver “cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care.”  More concerning is that the measure is silent in defining words like “cost-effective” and “clinically appropriate,” and though the legislature can come back and define those terms statutorily to give them meaning, the legislature will not meet again in a timely manner to put definitions to all of the measure’s undefined terms before a passed constitutional amendment would go into effect 30 days after the election.16 Without a special legislative session, the battle over seemingly benign words like “affordable health care” and “fundamental right” might begin in a courtroom before it can take place in a legislative hearing room.

Assuming that courts and the legislature can define what “cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care” means, the real question is going to be one of balancing the cost of the newly-created right against the rest of the budget.  The measure seeks to create a balancing test between the legislature’s anticipation of legal actions and judicial remedies for the state’s failure to deliver upon the right against other public funding expenditures.  While Oregon currently funds public education at 8.25 percent of all available state and federal funds (nearly 19 percent less than current healthcare spending),17 only a portion of lottery dollars and the Common School Fund (the share of the K-12 budget funded with revenues derived from state lands) are constitutionally guaranteed sources of public education funding.18 Most other non-education spending, with the exception of transportation, other lottery expenditures, debt obligations, and user-fee-based budgets, are non-guaranteed general fund expenditures, subject to biennial legislative deliberations. 19  

The term “other essential public services,” also undefined by SJR 12, will likely be deliberated in every biennium as to what is “essential” given that today’s legislators are precluded from binding the hands of future legislators regarding funding and policy decisions.20 Constitutionally-required spending and debt obligations must be accounted for first in the budgeting process; what remains available will be the subject of intense debate, given that Oregon’s largest source of general fund revenue is based on income taxes, which fluctuate in boom and bust economic years. Should a court find that the state is not doing what it needs to meet its obligation, the state can meet the financial obligation through some combination of (1) spending from existing revenue sources not otherwise constitutionally obligated and reducing other general fund programmatic spending, (2) increasing revenues from new or existing sources to cover shortfalls, (3) passing the obligation to counties and other governmental jurisdictions as an unfunded mandate with a three-fifths vote of both legislative chambers (the expectation being the state would meet its obligation to fulfill the constitutional right by enjoining another political subdivision to carry the financial burden),21 or (4) cost-shifting the burden to employers and healthcare practitioners.

The Washington State Legislature faced a similar type of judicial challenge when it adjudicated conflicting interpretations of state constitutional language regarding education funding.22 The court in McCleary v. Washington found the Washington Legislature had failed to meet its constitutional obligation to properly fund public education in a manner that would appropriately educate children.23 The court stated:

If the State’s funding formulas provide only a portion of what it actually costs a school to pay its teachers, get kids to school, and keep the lights on, then the             legislature cannot maintain that it is fully funding basic education through its funding formulas.24

To meet its obligation under the McCleary decision, the legislature increased education funding in 2013 by 11.4 percent.25  However, the court determined that number was insufficient to comply with its finding that the legislature was inadequately funding public education and the case ended up back in court. The judge found the legislature in contempt, and issued a $100,000 per day fine for every day the legislature failed to comply with the education funding mandate.26 From the original state supreme court decision until the court determined the legislature had met its obligation, over six years had passed.  The legislature was forced to pass cost-shifting measures to local governments and increase state education funding by an additional $776 million in 2018 in order to achieve compliance with the original order. The legislature also had to set aside an additional $105 million in contempt of court fines.27 In total, Washington State’s education budget went from $13.54 billion in 2012, when McCleary was first decided, to $25.5 billion for the 2017-19 biennium after the court declared the state in compliance – an 88 percent funding increase backfilled by new property tax increases, a tax on internet sales, and the end of tax exemptions for extracted fuels and bottled water.28

Unlike McCleary, in which a group of parents sued collectively for Washington’s public school children, SJR 12 has an individual private right of action against the state. The McCleary court determined that a “basic education” could be universally delivered to all children with a generalized increase in funds because the cost of the education delivery is uniform and its cost drivers like health insurance, salaries, and pensions, are known and predictable. 

In contrast, the individual healthcare needs of over 4 million Oregonians, and whomever else the courts determine to be “residents” of the state, present a myriad of potential financial obligations and judicial remedies that could be required if individual citizens successfully sue the state for access to this newfound right of healthcare. An analysis of Oregon’s cumulatively aggregated health costs (private pay and publicly funded) can be calculated from existing data sources at the Department of Consumer and Business Services (DCBS) and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), as well as public employer insurers like the Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) and the Oregon Educators Benefits Board (OEBB).  But basing healthcare spending needs off of floor calculations of funds being spent now for healthcare in Oregon does not factor in whether the current coverage people have is adequate to meet the new constitutional standard, or whether the costs people are paying now are affordable.  A recent report showed that upwards of 69 percent of bankruptcy filings in Oregon, depending on the county where the action was filed, included medical debt in requests for debt discharges.29  That is a strong indication that notwithstanding that nearly 96 percent of Oregonians have some kind of medical coverage,30 the coverage they might have does not go far enough to keep patients from incurring the type of medical costs that could be passed along to the state (and ultimately, taxpayers and private employers) should SJR 12 pass.

Even without SJR 12, Oregon’s health costs, particularly as they relate to prescription drug programs, are presently being hotly contested. The OHA is seeking through its Section 1115 Medicaid waiver to exclude coverage of high-cost drugs for cancer and other life-threatening diseases.31 These drugs are approved through the Food and Drug Administration’s drug fast-tracking program, but Oregon does not want to compensate drug companies for their use under the state’s Medicaid program.32 If SJR 12 passes, such denials could become immediately actionable by a cancer patient or an individual with a chronic, debilitating illness whose doctor believes those drugs are clinically appropriate and in line with the fundamental health right created by the ballot measure.    

Practitioner Participation Through Licensure Mandates

If the Oregon State Legislature could generate the revenues necessary to fully fund SJR 12 to the levels that will be required either statutorily or as the result of litigation, money cannot address the fact that there are not enough practitioners to meet expanded participation in the healthcare system. The lack of practitioners speaks to issues of both practitioners who are not taking or serving at capacity the Medicaid, low-income, and rural populations, as well as those who are limiting insurance acceptance and moving to concierge, cash-payor care.33 Nationally, a recent study found that just 25 percent of primary care physicians were seeing 86 percent of Medicaid patients, and 25 percent of specialty care practitioners were providing 75 percent of specialty services.34

Suppose for a moment that the state had practitioners fully accepting and serving Medicaid patients. If lawmakers determine, as an example, that the best way to meet the new obligation created by SJR 12 is to further expand Medicaid, the challenge will be that there simply are not enough bodies to do the work. Oregon’s nursing staff shortage crisis has reached an all-time high, with the delta between the need for nurses and the rate of graduating new nurses a net negative 1,300 nurses short per year.35 Nearly half of Oregon’s 45,000 nurses are traveling nurses from out of state,36 which was already unsustainable even before Oregon might consider licensure requirements to implement SJR 12.  The physician shortage in Oregon is also complicated, with a 2021 Kaiser Family Foundation report ranking the state 20th in the nation for states facing primary care shortages.37 A report from Oregon Health Science University does a more thorough analysis than the Kaiser report, detailing the lack of access to dental care and prenatal care, care deserts where there are no practitioners within reasonable driving distance of patient need, and the over-utilization of hospitals as a primary care replacement.38

The combination of lack of providers taking Medicaid and lack of providers generally available will squeeze lawmakers into making difficult statutory choices to meet voter expectations and any judicial remedies that might be put upon the legislature after the first successful lawsuits to implement the measure.  One such policy choice the legislature might adopt is compelling practitioners to serve low-income, rural, and Medicaid patients as a condition of medical licensure. Article I, section 18 of the Oregon Constitution could afford some measure of protection against the state compelling practitioners to provide unpaid services,39 though very little case law exists in Oregon as it relates to takings of “particular services” or of an individual’s labor.  A court would likely be faced with having to determine if the consideration of the licensure itself is a form of compensation (i.e., the value the license confers upon the person who can then use it to earn future revenues) or that the license and some minimum level of compensation set to a public rate of reimbursement (such as Medicare or Medicaid payment levels) meet the “just compensation” standard in the state constitution’s takings clause.40 However, as Americans have recently witnessed during the Covid-19 pandemic, state governments have enjoyed broad latitude in their police powers as a matter of implementing public health agenda policies; a court could hold that a constitutional fundamental right is enough to compel practitioners to participate in the delivery of care by virtue of the constitutional right created by voters without upsetting the takings clause or requiring a need to compensate a practitioner’s labor in the manner in which a practitioner could otherwise charge for services.41  

What is clear is that Oregon cannot meet the demands created by an individual constitutional right to healthcare without participation in the delivery of that healthcare by practitioners. Therefore, practitioners should expect that state lawmakers will likely enjoin them by some kind of statutory means to ensure that patients are served at the fullest level of access determined to adequately fulfill the constitutional right.

Employer Requirements and ERISA Exemptions, Challenges

Another statutory path the Oregon Legislature could take would be to shift the cost burden of implementing SJR 12 to private employers.  This could take form in some combination of new tax increases on businesses; a requirement for employers to pick up the employee cost of copayments and deductibles; a requirement for mandatory payments by employers into health savings accounts (HSAs); or requiring an increase in paid time off for Oregon’s already mandatory statewide sick-leave laws.42

Additionally, the legislature could choose to require insurance companies to increase their share of coverage payments by reducing or eliminating copayments and deductibles, or by passing new mandatory statutory coverage for therapies, treatments, and pharmaceuticals that are not currently covered by the state or insurance plans negotiated by employers.  This cost-shifting strategy to private employers and insurance companies would allow the legislature to absolve itself of any financial responsibility for SJR 12, while allowing lawmakers to warrant to the judicial branch during a compliance proceeding that the legislature has fulfilled the constitutional right for Oregonians.

Lastly, the legislature could assess a fine on taxpayers and businesses for failing to maintain insurance coverage for themselves individually or for a business’s employees. Massachusetts has adopted a similar policy on businesses to support subsidized healthcare programs with no legal challenges having been brought forth against the policy.43

The challenge Oregon lawmakers will face in any schemes that involve employers will be that ERISA plans will likely be exempt as ERISA preempts state laws relating to any employee benefit plans.44 Oregon’s major employers like Nike and Intel, as well as hospitals and large physician clinics as employers, fall under ERISA and could not generally be compelled to participate in new state mandates designed to fulfill the constitutional requirements of SJR 12. Most recently in 2017, the state legislature carved ERISA plans out of legislation to raise health insurance premium taxes on employers who bought insurance in the small or large group markets and that were not otherwise self-insured.45 Under the insurance premium tax law, Oregon employers covered by the legislation were made to pay a 1.5 percent sales tax on healthcare premiums (later raised to two percent in subsequent legislation) for the purpose of funding an insurance risk pool and Medicaid. 46 The tax was challenged through a referendum and upheld by voters.47

While large, self-insured employers currently enjoy no requirement to subsidize public health in the way small employers and individuals do, the fact that they give their employees some form of coverage will not insulate the state from an individual claim if the employee of an ERISA-covered employer still seeks enforcement of the employee’s constitutional right.  As an example, such an employee could have a costly or life-long illness that the ERISA employer doesn’t fully cover. The employee under SJR 12 could seek treatment coverage paid for by the state if the employee could make the claim that the treatment sought was “cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care.” As a cost-containment measure, ERISA-covered employers could actually reduce health coverage to employees so that the state might pick up the cost if a statute or judicial opinion determines the types of coverage being cut are actually a responsibility of the state under SJR 12.

The one possible safety valve the state has to enjoin ERISA-covered employers would be passing legislation to tax ERISA plans for the purpose of funding Medicaid. While this is untested in the 9th Circuit Court, the United States Court of Appeals in the 6th Circuit held that Michigan’s Health Insurance Claims Assessment Act, a one percent tax on claims paid by self-insured plans to help fund Michigan’s Medicaid program, was not preempted by ERISA.48 Under federal law, a state can assess up to a six percent tax per provider type to assist in generating state funds for federal Medicaid matches so long as provider and payment taxes generate no more than 25 percent of the state’s required share of Medicaid, and no payee is promised the return of such funds for payment of such a tax.49  Such a proposal, if passed, would likely be immediately litigated, but given the more liberal nature of the 9th Circuit, one could speculate that this court would find similarly to the more conservative 6th Circuit that taxation of ERISA plans does not interfere with the management decision of those plans and reach a similar holding.  The real question is not whether a court would make the same finding; rather, it is whether Oregon lawmakers are ready to require the largest corporations in the state to pay a significant tax on healthcare in order to have the funding necessary to make good on the promise of SJR 12.


In November, Oregon voters will determine whether establishing a constitutional right to healthcare is also worth the tradeoff of allowing individuals the ability to litigate that right against the state for damages and specific remedies. While other states’ constitutions have generalized language about the health and wellbeing of their citizens, or even more specific health-related carveouts, like California’s state constitution Article XXXV related to medical research, no state has seemingly gone as far as the Oregon Legislature in constitutionalizing specific healthcare obligations, and likely for good reason. While well-intended, the measure has real potential to create serious budgetary risks and exacerbate provider scarcity at a time when most states are actively trying to find ways to provide more healthcare coverage and access, and when states are competing for scarce healthcare personnel.

When courts weigh in after the passage of healthcare as a fundamental constitutional right with an individual private right of action attached, SJR 12 will become Oregon’s version of Washington’s McCleary. The funding will never be enough, the litigation will be ongoing, and the legislature will be forced to seek new revenues or pass costs along because the state simply does not generate enough tax revenue to cover the potential costs of the measure.

SJR 12 will require practitioners to be engaged with healthcare delivery in a manner that could drive practitioners to leave Oregon rather than be compelled to participate, further creating equity gaps in access to care. The cost shifting to counties, individuals, healthcare systems, and private employers will create new pressures on resources where counties are already cash-strapped, and Oregonians already have some of the highest personal income and business taxes in the nation. If large corporations covered by ERISA are left out of the equation, it shifts the costs even further upon the smallest of small employers.

The legislature’s poorly-structured balancing test in its attempt to protect other public spending will offer little protection from a judiciary that will be the final arbiter of defining the measure’s meaning and determining voter intent. In referring SJR 12 to the people for a vote, the legislature set a table for which it has not enough resources to fill the plates.  Voters should strongly consider whether the aspirational idea of healthcare as a fundamental right to require “cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care” is worth the real risk of losing funding for other public services, and creating new burdens for practitioners and employers. 


  1. OREGON SECRETARY OF STATE, March Voter File Update (Mar. 16, 2022), available at
  2. The Oregon State Legislature passed Senate Joint Resolution 12 on a near party-line vote out of the state Senate on March 18, 2022 (with the exception of one senate Democrat in opposition), on a straight party-line vote out of the state House on May 19, 2022, and filed the measure with the Oregon Secretary of State on May 26, 2022 for voter consideration at the next November General election on November 8, 2022. The measure requires 50%+1 of ballots received for passage in order to amend the measure language into the state constitution.   If passed, the measure will go into effect within 30 days after the date of the election and after the measure’s passage has been certified by the Secretary of State.  A copy of the proposed measure language as voted on and enrolled by the state legislature is electronically available at
  3. Id.
  4. Under Oregon law ORS 250.035(2) a ballot measure for statewide consideration will have no more than a 15-word caption, a 25-word “Results of a YES vote” statement, a 25-word “Results of a NO vote” statement, and a 125-word summary drafted in accordance with state law and state supreme court judicial precedent.  The text of ORS 250.035(2) is available at; State v. Sagdal, 356 Or. 639, 642-643 (2015) noting that the “history of a referred constitutional provision includes ‘sources of information that were available to the voters at the time the measure was adopted and that disclose the public’s understanding of the measure,’ such as the ballot title, arguments included in the voters’ pamphlet....”
  5. SJR 12 first took form as House Joint Resolution 18 (2007) when Representative Mitch Green (D-Portland and Chair of the House Health Committee) brought forward the concept.  It saw four additional House referral measure iterations sponsored by Rep. Greenlick in 2009, 2013, 2015, and 2018, before finally passing as SJR in sponsorship by Senator Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward (D-Portland) who took up the measure’s cause after Rep. Greenlick passed away in 2020.
  6. House Joint Resolution 203 (HJR 203) had a robust debate on the floor of the Oregon Legislature on February 13, 2018, resulting in 35 Democrats voting YES on the measure, and 25 Republicans voting NO on the measure, the video of which is available at  Note: This author participated in that legislative debate directly as a lawmaker and was a NO on HJR 203.
  7. Wong, P., Portland Rep. Mitch Greenlick Dies at Age 85, PORTLAND TRIBUNE (May 20, 2020), available at
  8. Supra, n. 2.
  9. Voters will be directed on their ballots to consider official titling language that was developed through a public process with the Secretary of State and Attorney General. Voters will also have the opportunity to parse through statements from supporters or opposition, either of whom paid $1,200 for entry into the voter’s pamphlet or petitioned their arguments into the pamphlet with 500 valid voter signatures.  Once assigned a measure number, this is the official titling voters will see on their ballots:  CAPTION: Amends Constitution: State must ensure affordable health care access, balanced against requirement to fund schools/essential services. Result of “Yes” Vote: “Yes” vote requires state to ensure access to affordable health care. State must balance health care funding against schools/essential services. Enforcement by courts limited. Result of “No” Vote: “No” vote retains current law. The constitution does not require the state to ensure access to affordable health care; state provides some health care access. Summary: Amends Constitution. Current state law outlines the general requirements for health insurance policies and provides health care for low income and disabled residents who meet eligibility requirements. Amends the Oregon Constitution to establish health care as a fundamental right; obligates the state to provide Oregon residents “access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care.” Amendment requires the state to balance that obligation against the public interest in funding public schools and other essential public services. If the state is sued to enforce the amendment, the court may not order a remedy that interferes with the state’s requirement to balance health care funding against funding for public schools and other essential public services. The full ballot titling history of SJR 12 can be read at the Oregon Secretary of State’s initiative and referendum database, available at As of this writing, no major news outlet in Oregon has hosted a debate or published an editorial board opinion on the measure for voter consideration.
  11. Templeton, A., Oregon embarks on ‘bridge’ health insurance plan for people facing Medicaid expansion sunset, OPB (Mar. 5, 2022), available at
  12. Id.
  13. OREGON STATE LEGISLATURE, 2021-23 Legislatively Adopted Budget General Funds/Lottery Funds Summary, Legislative Fiscal Office (July 2021), available at
  14. OREGON HEALTH AUTHORITY, New health insurance data shows record-high health coverage for people in Oregon, OHA News Release (Feb. 8, 2022), available at
  15. OREGON HEALTH AUTHORITY, OHA releases 2022 CCO capitation rates, OHA News Release (Oct. 7, 2021), available at, highlighting that per person reimbursement rates to managed coordinated care organizations that provide Medicaid coverage in Oregon will average $485.84 per member per month.  Factored out to cover the uninsured estimated population of 226,600 lives, biennially, the state’s Medicaid budget would need an additional $2.66 billion in new funding to bring Oregon’s insured rate to 100% coverage.
  16. OREGON STATE CONSTITUTION, Article IV, Legislative Power; Initiative and Referendum, Section 4, subsection (4)(d), modified by voters May 2, 1968.
  17. See, e.g., Legislatively Adopted Budget Summary, supra n. 13.
  18. Note: Constitutionally required education spending between lottery and common school fund dollars represents roughly $700 million of the $9.3 billion in K-12 public school biennial spending.  The remaining dollars are federally earned and grant dollars, and discretionary distributions from the state general fund (see, e.g., supra, n. 13; see also Common School Fund will send $64.2 million to Oregon schools this year, KPTV (Feb. 8, 2022), available at
  19. See supra n. 13.
  20. In footnote 14 from Health Net Inc. and Subsidiaries v. Department of Revenue, (2015 WL 5249431, 22 Or. Tax 128), the court noted that the concept of one legislative body not binding the hands of future legislatures was a “fundamental notion in a republican form of government” and that “[t]hey should not be governed by the policy choices of prior legislative bodies with potentially different constituencies or constituencies with different policy choices.” The footnote also includes a United States Supreme Court holding to further support the court’s position that statutes are not contracts, but meant to be revised by future legislatures based on the needs of constituents. “This well-established presumption is grounded in the elementary proposition that the principal function of a legislature is not to make contracts, but to make laws that establish the policy of the state. Indiana ex rel. Anderson v. Brand, 303 U.S. 95, 104–05, 58 S Ct 443, 447–448, 82 L Ed 685 (1938). Policies, unlike contracts, are inherently subject to revision and repeal, and to construe laws as contracts when the obligation is not clearly and unequivocally expressed would be to limit drastically the essential powers of a legislative body.”
  21. OREGON STATE CONSTITUTION, Article XI, section 15 (providing that when the Legislative Assembly or a state agency proscribes a new program or requires a new level of service, the Legislature shall provide funding to the local government, except in the event of subsection 7(a) when the law is approved by a three-fifths vote of the membership of each house in the Legislative Assembly.
  22. WASHINGTON STATE CONSTITUTION, Article 9, section 1, stating “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing in its borders.” This constitutional language was adopted at statehood in 1889 and was successfully challenged in 2012 by parents who believed the state was failing to appropriately fund a constitutional right of education for the state’s school children.
  23. McCleary v. Washington, 269 P.3d 227; 173 Wash. 2d 477; Ed. Law Rep. 1011 (2012).
  24. Id. at 532.
  25. Finne, L., Overview of the McCleary Decision on Public Education and Reform, WASHINGTON POLICY CENTER (Jan. 21, 2014), available at
  26. O’Sullivan, J., Washington Supreme Court ends long-running McCleary education case against the state, THE SEATTLE TIMES (June 7, 2018), available at
  27. Id.; Allen, J., For school systems, McCleary decision gave with one hand and took with the other, THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Sept. 9, 2018), available at
  28. Finne, L., Washington’s 2017-19 state budget and education, WASHINGTON POLICY CENTER (June 29, 2017), available at
  29. Hernandez, R., Medical debt plays a role in a majority of Oregon bankruptcy filings, OPB (Sept. 27, 2021), available at
  30. See supra n. 14.
  31. Brown, C., New Cancer Drug Access at Risk in Oregon Medicaid Proposal, BLOOMBERG LAW (May 5, 2022), available at
  32. Id.
  33. Levin, H., The Rise of Cash-Only Doctors Who Don’t Take Insurance – Pros & Cons, MONEY CRASHERS (Dec. 6, 2021), available at
  34. Ludomirsky, A., Schpero, W., Wallace, J., et al, In Medicaid Managed Care Networks, Care is Highly Concentrated Among a Small Percentage of Physicians, HEALTH AFFAIRS (May 2022), available at
  35. Terry, L., Oregon Medical Providers Rely On Diminishing Number Of Out-Of-State Nurses, Study Finds, THE LUND REPORT (Apr. 21, 2021), available at
  36. Id.
  37. KAISER FAMILY FOUNDATION, Primary Health Care Professional Shortage Areas, (Sept. 30, 2021), finding that over 1.1 million Oregonians live in one of 149 primary care shortage areas, and that the existing primary care practitioners are covering only 57.48% of the lives in those areas.  To meet minimum staffing levels, Oregon would need another 157 primary care physicians. The Kaiser report is available at,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D.
  38. OREGON HEALTH SCIENCES UNIVERSITY, Oregon Areas of Unmet Health Care Need Report (August 2021), available at
  39. OREGON STATE CONSTITUTION, Article 1, section 18, stating in part that “Private property shall not be taken for public use, nor the particular services of any man be demanded, without just compensation; nor except in the case of the state, without such compensation first assessed and tendered….”
  40. Id.
  41. States during Covid-19 relied heavily on public health police powers determined by a United States Supreme Court decision in Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11, 25 S.Ct. 358, 49 L.Ed 643 (1905) to do everything from compelling people to wear masks and accept vaccines as a condition of employment, to closing non-essential medical practices and requiring private medical practitioners to give over personal protective equipment (PPE) during PPE supply chain shortages (neither of which was determined in various cases to be a taking).  The Oregon State Constitution also broadly gives the governor wide latitude to declare public health emergencies (see the Oregon Office of Emergency Management guidelines on public emergencies, available at  
  42. Senate Bill 454 (2015) requires up to 40 hours of sick leave coverage paid by employers with at least six employees.  The Oregon Legislature could consider expanding this to include all Oregonians, either paid by employers or paid by some other state resource. Senate Bill 454 as enrolled is available at
  43. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, § 189, available at The fund requires employers with more than five employees to pay 0.34% of employee wages into the state’s healthcare fund.
  44. 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a) supersedure clause in ERISA prohibits states from prescribing laws that interfere with the management of employee benefit plans managed by most self-insured employers with a few exceptions for some plans, like government benefit plans.
  45. Oregon House Bill 2391 (2017) required an insurance premium tax on individual plans and on small and large group health care plans that were not self-insured plans managed by ERISA-covered employers.
  46. Id.
  47. Oregon Ballot Measure 101 (2018) was a referendum asking whether individuals, small group, and large group buyers should pay a tax on health insurance premiums.  In a special January election, roughly 25% of the state’s registered voters voted on the measure, and a majority of them upheld the tax.  The tax impacts about one-fifth of Oregon’s insured lives who disproportionately are paying these healthcare taxes while self-insured plans are exempted from the tax. (See, e.g., Dake, L., Oregon Voters Approve Measure 101, OPB (Jan. 23, 2018), available at
  48. Self-Insurance Institute of America, Inc. v. Snyder, No. 12-2264, 2016 WL 3606849 (6th Cir. July 1, 2016).
  49. NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF STATE LEGISLATURES, Health Provider Industry and State Taxes and Fees (Oct. 17, 2017), available at


    Julie Parrish

    JD Candidate 2023, Willamette University College of Law, Salem, OR

    Julie Parrish is a former four-term Republican State Representative who served in the Oregon Legislature from 2011 to 2019.  In the legislature, she was a member of the House Committees on Health Care; Human Services; Education; Transportation; and Veterans’ Affairs & Emergency Management. She owns a full-service media marketing and political consulting firm, PIP Communications, with her husband Mark, a retired Army Colonel. Ms. Parrish holds a degree in Human Communications from Southern Oregon University and an MBA from Marylhurst University. In her studies at Willamette University, she is focused on earning a Health Care Law certificate and a certificate in Law and Government in conjunction with her JD degree, and intends to practice in healthcare and public policy law upon graduation. She may be reached at [email protected].

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