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In her bid to be Portland’s next mayor, Eileen Brady has been getting a lot of mileage out of her work on health care reform. Her campaign website calls her service on the Oregon Health Fund Board -- the board tasked with reworking the state’s system -- "perhaps Eileen’s most important public service role."
That theme keeps popping up again and again. Most recently, we spotted it in a Facebook ad, which said "On the Oregon Health Fund Board, Eileen brought together business, labor and hospitals to give 94,000 Oregon children health care."
She also brought the board up in her announcement speech back in early September.
"In 2009 Governor Kulongoski appointed me as vice chair of the Oregon Health Fund Board ... Today, as the result of the work we did on that board and the Legislature’s commitment we were able to provide health insurance to an additional 94,000 kids," she said. "During this process I came to know insurance executives, hospital leaders, labor leaders, and activists. And I helped find the common ground that enabled us to put our differences aside and put our children first."
We wondered whether the claim that she brought together these constituencies was true.
Brady’s spokesman John Isaacs, happy to help us reach a True rating on this fact check, sent us a long list of folks to get in touch with who would be happy to vouch for her leadership skills. "I expect that you will call each of these people," he wrote.
Not so surprisingly, they all gave Brady rave reviews.
Tom Chamberlain, president of the AFL-CIO and a member of the board, said he and Brady pushed for a consensus-style committee process in which "we got input from everybody." Still, he said, "when Eileen and I presented that, I don't recall a lot of push back."
As for the general idea that Brady helped build agreement between groups, Chamberlain said "that's fair to say," adding that as a vice chair of the committee, "she probably deserves a little more credit."
"All of us worked really hard and all of us went to town-hall-like meetings all over the state," Chamberlain said. Brady, he said, carried her own weight and might have gone to more meetings than anybody else, though he couldn’t remember for certain.
Next up was Alan Bates, a Democratic senator from Medford, and one of two authors of the bill that created the board on which Brady sat. After the committee had crafted their proposal, Bates said, he took Eileen with him to a meeting of the Senate’s Republican caucus. "Eileen stepped up as a business leader and on a very emotional and solid basis really sold them," he said. "Eileen was really germane to getting that done."
Bates, it should be noted, has endorsed Brady. As has Jonathan Ater, who served as the other vice chair on the Oregon Health Fund Board.
Naturally, then, Ater had good things to say about Brady. "I do not think the Legislature would have been able to adopt a children's health insurance program unless there had been a very substantial consensus built up," he said. "I think Eileen was a critical part of bridging that discussion."
The difficult thing with a statement like this is that we can’t base a ruling off personal accounts alone -- particularly personal accounts from supporters. It’s also hard to parse out exactly how essential any one person was.
What we can do, though, is offer some context.
The road to health care reform in Oregon has been a pretty twisty one, involving hundreds of people and meetings over the course of many years. The specific change that Brady touts on Facebook and in her speech has roots stretching back several years.
In June 2007, Sen. Bates and Sen. Ben Westlund, D-Bend, manged to get the Healthy Oregon Act through the state Legislature.
That act, the product of an 18-month effort that included hearings across Oregon, set "essential health care benefits for all Oregonians." It also allocated money for creating a seven-member Oregon Health Fund Board, which would turn the concepts outlined in the legislation into a workable plan.
Brady was appointed to that board. After more than a year’s worth of work and dozens of meetings, the board presented then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski with a fleshed-out plan. The Oregonian reported at the time that "the panel crafted its plan during the past year with volunteer committee help from doctors, hospitals, insurers and others in the health care industry and testimony from more than 1,000 Oregonians across the state."
Included in that plan was a recommendation for a 1 percent tax on hospitals and health insurance providers to increase the number of children and low-income adults on the Oregon Health Plan. The Legislature approved the legislation in 2009 and children have been enrolling since.
Given the long and involved history, it would be an overstatement to say that Brady was so integral to all of this that it wouldn’t have happened without her. That said, her position as vice chair of the board that ultimately suggested the provider tax to expand children’s health care is nothing to sneeze at. The board had to balance the needs and desires of several constituencies and Brady was one of the leaders during those talks.
The history, stretching back to when Bates and Westlund first traveled the state to put together their initial act, is important additional information, but the comment that Brady "helped find the common ground" can’t really be disputed. We find this one Mostly True.
Eileen Brady campaign, Facebook ad, Nov. 15, 2011
Eileen Brady, campaign kick-off speech, Sept. 8, 2011
Interview with Jonathan Ater, vice chair of Oregon Health Fund Board, Nov. 21, 2011
Interview with Tom Chamberlain, president of the AFL-CIO, Nov. 17, 2011
Interview with Sen. Alan Bates, Nov. 17, 2011
Oregon Health Fund Board, Aim High: Building a Healthy Oregon, November 2008
The Oregonian, Health care given shot in the arm, June 23, 2007
The Oregonian, Governor pledges 5-year plan to expand health care to all, Nov. 26, 2008
The Oregonian, Health reform effort thrives, June 9, 2009
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