The United States spends more than $650 billion a year on health care, yet 37 million of its citizens, mostly children, have no health insurance. In Oregon, despite the warnings of some disbelievers {editorial, June 4}, we have a plan to change that -- the Oregon Basic Health Services Act.

The act, the work of a coalition of consumers, medical providers, business and labor leaders as well as the Oregon legislators, is made up of three bills. The first would expand the population eligible for Medicaid, the second would require all employers to provide health insurance for their employees and the third would make health insurance available to high-risk individuals through the creation of risk pools. The problem is that Oregon needs a federal waiver to implement this act because it would change federal Medicaid rules. As representatives of Oregon who sit on the committees with jurisdiction over the Medicaid program, we intend to work in the Senate and in the House to pass legislation to allow this waiver.

Under federal law, Medicaid benefits now are generally unavailable to single people and childless couples. The Oregon proposals would eliminate this discriminatory practice. The proposals would also cover families with incomes of up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level; today, only families with incomes at 58 percent or below the poverty level can qualify for Medicaid benefits. Eliminating this arbitrary barrier would make health care available to 77,000 more Oregonians.

The Oregon act also includes a plan for a priority list of the services that would most effectively improve the health of Oregonians. To develop this list, our state Health Services Commission held 11 public hearings, 47 community meetings and surveyed hundreds of Oregonians. Based on what it learned, our legislature will earmark funds for certain basic health care. Some critics call this "rationing" health care, but how can you be accused of rationing benefits for people who have none today?

Some say the Oregon plan would take away health care from poor women and children to provide health care to those who now go without. However, the waiver will require that the level of health benefits provided under the plan be adequate to meet the basic health needs of Oregonians. Oregon state officials have said unequivocally that providing adequate health care to 77,000 additional low-income Oregonians will require increased funding.

Other critics talk about the Oregon plan setting a "dangerous" precedent, but the waiver will apply only to Oregon and only for three years. After three years, an evaluation will be presented to Congress. If the plan is a failure, other states won't be interested. But if it shows promise, why shouldn't other states be given flexibility to try something new?

The Oregon plan does challenge Medicaid rules -- rules that are irrational and discriminatory -- but also brings logic and fairness to the Medicaid program in Oregon. It will allow our citizens to decide for themselves what health benefits they need instead of having benefits mandated for them by Washington special interests.

Oregon has a plan that could provide a lifeline to those who now fall in the cracks in our health care system. At the very least, it should be given a chance.

-- Bob Packwood and Ron Wyden The writers are, respectively, a Republican senator and a Democratic representative from Oregon.