Editorials from Oregon newspapers
Medford Mail Tribune, May 17, on shopping for health insurance.
A funny thing happened on the way to health care reform: Insurance companies began to compete with each other, right out in the open.
A comparison of premiums that health insurers propose to begin charging next year went online last week. Not surprisingly, prices varied, even for identical plans.
More surprisingly, the differences were sometimes substantial. For example, one company listed a monthly premium of $169 for an individual policy to cover a 40-year-old nonsmoker in the Medford area. Another company's quote was $419 for the same plan.
You can see the proposed rates at http://www.oregonhealthrates.org/files/medford_individual.pdf. Keep in mind that these are only the first proposals. The rates have not been approved by the state, and won't be available for real comparison shopping until October.
What's more, depending on your income, you may be eligible for a tax credit to cover some of the cost. You can find out whether you are eligible by using the online calculator at /coveroregon.com/calculators.php.
Here's where the funny thing comes in. No sooner had the rates gone up on the Oregon Insurance Division website than two companies asked for a do-over.
Providence Health Plan asked to lower its rates by 15 percent. A spokesman for Family Care Health Plans, whose rates turned out to be the highest posted, said the company would ask to lower its rates even further, according to The Associated Press.
Does this sound like a government takeover of the private marketplace? Hardly. It sounds like competition.
Does it sound like "socialized medicine?" Not exactly. Private insurers are still providing coverage, and care will be delivered by the same doctors and hospitals who are providing it now, not by the government.
The state will approve proposed rates in July. In October, the full CoverOregon website will go live. Coverage begins in January 2014.
There are bound to be bumps in the road as the new system gets put together. Initially, some people will likely pay more for coverage, because companies are not allowed to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. In the long run, costs should come down because nearly everyone will be covered — and because companies will compete on price.
But one thing is clear: Real comparison shopping, which has been nearly impossible in the past because policies varied so widely, will become much easier, because companies are required to offer the same three basic plans, labeled bronze, silver and gold to reflect how much they pay — and how much they cost.
A great many details remain to be worked out between now and next January. But the fact that companies already are jockeying for position on the list of proposed premiums is a positive sign.
The Grants Pass Daily Courier, May 18, on employers and social media.
The Oregon Legislature has rightfully slammed the door on one alarming trend, employers' peering into the private lives of employees and job applicants.
The Oregon House on Thursday passed on a 56-3 vote a bill barring employers from demanding workers or job hopefuls turn over their Facebook passwords and other social media login information. The Senate earlier overwhelmingly approved House Bill 2654, 28-1, so it now goes to the governor for his signature.
HB2654 prohibits employers from requiring workers to "friend" or connect with them on social media. It also bans employers from snooping by making employees access their social media accounts in front of them.
Employers have long had to steer away from certain questions about a job applicant's private life, such as how many children the person has and living arrangements. That's only proper, because a supervisor could discriminate based on the answers. For example, an employer could reject a woman with three small children, figuring she might take a lot of days off to tend to her children.
Of course, an employer wouldn't admit to that. He would probably give a job-related reason, such as the woman didn't have enough of the skills needed, so discrimination would be hard to prove.
HB2654 and similar legislation in other states need to be passed to update this workplace etiquette in today's modern, Facebook world. A job applicant or worker shouldn't have to throw open the door to his or her private life to obtain or keep a job.
Of course, if that private life is affecting job performance, then it does become a legitimate workplace issue. For example, a worker parties too much at night and thus is consistently late for work.
There are proper exceptions, too, when it comes to the social media and the workplace. One exception in HB2654 is when an employer has reason to believe a worker has violated company policies against misconduct or other requirements connected to his job.
In this case, the supervisor can ask the worker to share content from a social media account to determine the facts of the case.
It needs to be reiterated, though, that people need to be responsible for what they post on Facebook or other social media. Just because a law says their employer can't rummage through their postings doesn't protect them from their own bad judgment. They can still embarrass themselves, be ripped off financially or even suffer physical harm, if they're not careful.
The Internet has been around so long it probably feels like a familiar and helpful friend. However, one still has to proceed with caution and common sense or risk wandering into its dark side.
The Oregonian, May 20, on legalizing marijuana.
Only six months after the failure of the famously bad Measure 80, marijuana legalization advocates are demonstrating some serious smarts. We're just as surprised to say that as you probably are to hear it. But Measure 80 sponsor Paul Stanford and pro-pot group New Approach Oregon, who are eyeing the November 2014 ballot, have placed the Legislature in quite a bind: Lawmakers can help legalize pot, or they can render themselves completely irrelevant. Either way, marijuana legalization wins.
The pressure is mounting thanks, in part, to public opinion, which is far from discouraging to the legalization movement. Sixty-three percent of likely Oregon voters believe that marijuana should be taxed, regulated and legalized, according to a May poll commissioned by New Approach Oregon. This piggybacks on a March poll in which more than 80 percent of likely voters said they believe pot will be legalized in Oregon sooner or later.
About 50 percent of those polled in March by a different firm indicated support for marijuana legalization and regulation, which is about 13 percentage points lower than the May result. It's hard to know why the two polls differ so widely, says Dave Walker, a vice president at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, which conducted the May poll. But the questions are worded differently, and the May poll is a little bit further removed from the 2012 election, giving Oregonians a chance to watch legalization unfold in a neighboring state, Washington. It's a much less threatening idea now than it might have been then, says Walker.
Clearly, a well-written legalization measure on the 2014 ballot would have a very good chance of passage. Unfortunately, a badly written measure would have a pretty good shot, too. The Legislature is in the perfect position to guide the process. New Approach Oregon has worked with lawmakers on a legalization proposal, House Bill 3371, that would require the state to tax and regulate marijuana and license stores in which it could be sold. Adults would be able to grow a small amount of marijuana for their own use. The bill is in committee.
New Approach Oregon would like the Legislature to vote either this session or during next year's session to send the proposal to the ballot. If that doesn't happen, direct democracy will take over.
To that end, Stanford — who helped New Approach Oregon shape HB3371 — says he'll contact the secretary of state's office this week to start the initiative machinery for two proposals, one an updated version of Measure 80 and the other a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana. Stanford says he'll stop work on the two initiatives if lawmakers refer HB3371 to the ballot this session.
If that doesn't happen, several other things will. Stanford says he'll file a version of HB3371 as well, and then conduct some polling as soon as the three receive ballot titles. He will proceed with the initiative with the best chance of winning. Lawmakers should ask themselves whether they'd rather live with HB3371 or Measure 80, Part II. The most responsible measure may not poll the best.
It would have been difficult just a few years ago to imagine lawmakers asking voters to legalize marijuana. Now, it seems irresponsible for lawmakers not to. Oregonians — likely voters, anyway — support legalization, some version of which is certain to appear on the November 2014 ballot. Advocates have given lawmakers a chance to choose and shape the version that voters see. If they pass up that chance, they can hardly complain credibly about the result.