justin renteria

When Dr. Gregg Coodley saw Measure 50 fail last year—and, with it, hopes for a statewide kids' health care plan—he decided to do something to fill the gap locally.

"There's no hope nationally, and no hope statewide," says Coodley, from his desk at Southwest Portland's Fanno Creek Clinic. "What can we do that has a chance of passing in Portland?"

Coodley's idea is simple: Kids enrolled in Portland's public schools who don't already have health care would qualify for health insurance through a program paid for via the city budget (which has a multi-million dollar surplus at the moment). Once the program is off the ground, the public school districts would pick up two-thirds of the tab, which is estimated at less than $40 a month per child.

Coodley—who came to Portland "for a job" in 1990, along with his wife, who's also a doctor—ran the idea by a few city council members, but no one offered to champion the proposal. So he crafted a ballot measure, launched whynotportland.org, and plans to turn in the first 30,000 raw signatures this week—many collected by signature-gathering pros at Democracy Resources. The campaign needs to submit 27,200 valid signatures to the city by July 3 to qualify for the November ballot. (At that point, the city council could adopt it outright, Coodley points out. He's met with Commissioners Sam Adams and Dan Saltzman in the past few weeks to make that case.)

Coodley's proposal is not for the most comprehensive health insurance in the world. "It's not perfect, but this is at least a start," he says. As far as he's aware, Portland would be the first city in the US to offer health insurance to all kids.

A check-up at the pediatrician comes with a $10 co-pay, and families are responsible for a $7,500 deductible, for things from tests and medications to major illnesses. That's both for cost-effectiveness, and by design, says Coodley—parents who have coverage for their kids through an employer or a private plan won't be tempted to switch to the public one. The point is to cover kids who aren't already on a private plan or under the Oregon Health Plan—or about 16 percent of local kids, Coodley's best estimate.

That means the program will cost "under $4 million," Coodley says. "This should be enough of a priority for city funding," he adds.

As a bonus, Coodley hopes the plan helps lure more families to Portland's under-enrolled public schools. "Let's reverse that. Let's attract more families to Portland," he says. With more students, school districts' state funding grows—which will help the districts pay their share of the health care. And, he adds, "Kids who are healthier stay in school, and their achievement is higher."