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Oregon Nurse Online Article [Legislative Session in Review] [08/01/15]

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Legislative Session in Review

by Sarah Baessler, BS, BA, Director of Health Policy and Government Relations

On July 8, the Oregon legislature finally adjourned, closing out a session that many pundits and observers have classified as “unremarkable” and “not historic”.

While there were certainly frustrations during the legislative session, ONA helped pass several bills that we can be proud of and that will make a meaningful difference for nurses and patients across the state.

Governor Kitzhaber met with nursing leaders from across the state Monday, July 29, 2013, for a ceremonial bill signing of House Bill 2902. HB 2902 is the first law in the US to require insurance companies to reimburse primary care and mental health Nurse Practitioners, Physician Assistants and Physicians the same rates when they perform the same work and bill under the same codes.Passage of ONA’s Nurse Practitioner Payment Parity Bill (HB 2902) made Oregon the first state in the nation to require private insurers to adhere to equal pay for equal work. Starting January 1, 2014, the same private insurers that have cut nurse practitioners’ reimbursement rates since 2009 will need to reimburse NPs and physician assistants at the same rate as physicians for the same mental health and primary care services. To get this passed, NPs and RNs around the state, along with many of their friends and families, emailed, called, and met with legislators. You made the difference.

This was the third time we championed payment parity legislation, and getting it passed is certainly one for our history book.

ONA also started renewed conversations with legislators about Oregon’s Nurse Staffing Law, taking the first steps towards introducing a package of reforms to the law in the 2015 session, ten years after the 2005 revamp.

Working in coalition, ONA also helped enact meaningful policy changes that will improve retirement security for all Oregonians and increase investment in tobacco prevention, cessation, and physical education by allocating some of Oregon’s Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement funds to their original intent for the first time in Oregon’s history (another historic achievement this session).

To be certain, there is much more work to be done. We, and workers throughout Oregon, were disappointed that the legislature wouldn’t take on a meaningful conversation about earned sick days, and that the Senate dodged a vote on legislation that would have required disclosure and phase-out of certain toxic chemicals in children’s products. Seeing legislation that would have removed barriers to voter access die on the Senate floor in the final days of session was another low point.

We would be remiss not to mention the ongoing debate surrounding the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS). SB 822, which cuts PERS members benefits and has already been challenged in court, was criticized by some for not going far enough but went too far for ONA and the many nurses who have devoted their careers to public service with the promise that they could depend on their PERS retirement. The governor has indicated the possibility of a special session to consider a combination of PERS cuts and new revenue, which was the basis of the elusive “grand bargain” during session.
Despite some disappointments, this session was both remarkable and historic for Oregon’s nurses.

We had a spectacular lobby day to kick off the session back in February, starting with a huge amount of momentum. We passed legislation that will improve patient access to care, treat providers fairly, and align with the goals of health care reform. We were a key piece of the coalition that pushed and pushed until the legislature used the Tobacco Settlement funding for tobacco prevention and health promotion. We also worked in coalition to pass House Bill 3436, a measure which appoints a task force to study ways to help Oregonians save more for retirement, a time when many people face growing medical needs and expenses.

Throughout the session, what really made the difference was YOU. To every ONA member who picked up the phone to call a legislator, who emailed their state senator or representative, or called ONA and said, “How can I help?”, thank you. This is grassroots democracy in action and your voice, your passion, your expertise, and your commitment are what made this session both remarkable and historic for ONA.

For a more in-depth look at our legislative session and what it means for nurses, click here to read our complete end of session report.

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