Replace Oregon Workers’ Compensation with a single payer health insurance system?

I remember when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) became law and one of the questions that came up was, ‘Would the ACA replace workers’ compensation?’ The logic behind the question was if everyone has health insurance, then they really do not need medical benefits from workers’ compensation.  Similar logic was raised in a version of a recent bill in Oregon’s last legislative session, HB 2922.  The bill states, “SECTION 26.  { + (1) The Affordable Health Care for All Oregon Plan shall be the primary payer of reimbursement for health services provided through the plan, including but not limited to compensable medical expenses covered by workers’ compensation insurance.”  This bill did not pass but a study was funded by HB 3260 to see if a single payer system is advisable for Oregon.

When considering any changes to our workers’ compensation system one should step back and take a look at the larger picture. It seems that employers in Oregon have been subjected to frequent double digit rises in health insurance premiums almost as long as Oregon’s workers’ compensation rates have been stable.  Oregon’s workers’ compensation system is the envy of many states with its stable rates and the balance it strikes between employers and employees.  When business and labor interests hammered out a framework in the late 1980’s, our workers compensation system became a model that other states and nations emulate.  This balanced system is not perfect but is far better than most other states.

When you contrast the two systems you cannot help but see the disparity between the unpredictable rise in health insurance costs and predicable workers’ compensation rates.  There are signs that the rise in health insurance rates is abating but it is ill advised to substitute something that has been so unstable for so long in place of our workers’ compensation system.  A far better solution is to table this part of the discussion until much later.


Arin J. Carmack