Public health modernization has been long-discussed as a key need to advance the health, wellness, and accessibility of health care for Oregonians, but funding for implementation has been lacking. After several sessions of public health modernization being elevated as a priority, the 2019 Legislative Session has been earmarked as a year for a significant investment.

Originally, funding was anticipated through the tobacco tax component of the Medicaid funding package (House Bill 2270), but political winds have separated the two conversations.

In 2015, the Legislature passed House Bill 3100, a bill that created a new framework for government public health, to ensure all Oregonians have access to health. The Legislature followed up in 2017 on this framework with an investment of $5 million in public health modernization. Investments were centered on initial modernization phases of Oregon’s systems for communicable disease control.

With the funding for the 2017-2019 biennium, local public health authorities are utilizing $3.9 million to target regional needs for communicable disease control and interventions and health equity initiatives, and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) is using remaining funds to improve collection, reporting, and availability of data. Clear results from this biennium’s investments include increased capacity for outbreak investigations, preparation for emergencies, and increased and improved partnerships.

Because additional investments in public health are critical, and with the tobacco tax as a vehicle for funding no longer on the table, OHA has outlined a new funding approach. In their presentation to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Services on May 2, OHA articulated the need for a new investment of general funds to attain a modern public health system. Modernizing the current system would mean more funding and staff to adapt to critical health needs; preparation and prevention for health problems; better supported partnerships; identification and addressing of health disparities; integrated and improved data; and accessibility of foundational programs and capabilities throughout the state.

In response to the OHA presentation, Representative Andrea Salinas noted in committee of the current biennium’s investment, “that seems wholly inadequate to address the paradigm shift that we look like we’re headed toward.” Salinas followed up by posing a question OHA Director Pat Allen, “what do we actually need to get to modern public health systems and move away from the traditional public health system?”

Allen responded, “I think we have estimated it at about a $50 million increase in public health funding. Our ask and the current Governor’s budget is $35 million.”

The ask for $35 million has been made in the Ways and Means budget process. Public health modernization investments have been identified as a top priority for Association of Oregon Counties (AOC).  As budget discussions evolve, AOC Legislative Affairs Manager Andy Smith will be tracking public health modernization investments.

Contributed by: Megan Chuinard | Public Affairs Associate