Oregon Isn’t Waiting for Health Reform to Pass In Order to Help Uninsured Children and Families – Say Ahhh! A Children’s Health Policy Blog

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Guest Blogger, Cathy Kaufman, Communications and Policy Director at Children First for Oregon

Liz Arjun has blogged about the fact that CHIPRA has encouraged many states to move forward on health coverage for children despite facing difficult budgetary climates.  We have posted guest blogs from children’s health coverage experts in Colorado and Kansas, two of the states that have made commitments to cover more kids.  This week we examine another state that is moving forward through the eyes of Cathy Kaufman, an expert on children’s issues in Oregon.

While the nation continues to debate how best to tackle health reform, Oregon recently took a critical step forward by passing the most historic health care legislation since the inception of the Oregon Health Plan 15 years ago.

HB 2116, which awaits the Governor’s signature, expands coverage to 80,000 children and 35,000 adults using revenue from an increased tax on hospitals and a new tax on insurers.  This expansion, along with a streamlined application, 12-month continuous enrollment for all children, and increased outreach efforts is expected to result in securing coverage for 95% of Oregon’s uninsured kids by the end of the 2009-11 biennium. Not only is this great news for Oregon’s kids, it’s also good for the state economy, as the expansion will help Oregon draw down over a billion dollars in much-needed federal matching funds.

Uninsured children will have access to health coverage through three different avenues. Children in families with incomes below 200% FPL will be able to enroll in the Oregon Health Plan (an expansion of eligibility, up from 185% FPL) with full premium assistance and no co-pays. Children in families between 200 and 300% FPL will be able to purchase a private health plan through an insurance exchange with the help of a sliding scale premium subsidy. Families above 300% FPL can purchase an insurance plan through this exchange but with no subsidy. The plans offered through this exchange must provide affordable cost sharing and an equivalent level of benefits as the state plan. Lastly, families below 300% FPL with access to employer sponsored insurance can choose to get help affording that coverage for their children, with families below 200% receiving full premium assistance.

The expansion bill also continues Oregon’s commitment to expanding School Based Health Care centers throughout the state.

Along with health coverage expansion, the Legislature approved the creation of a state agency called the Oregon Health Authority, which will oversee existing state health care programs, establish health industry cost control measures, and improve the delivery of health care to all Oregonians, including the creation of an insurance exchange that will establish a central marketplace for insurance that provides one-stop shopping for individuals and small businesses, including a public health plan option.  You can read more about the Health Authority on the Oregon Health Fund Board’s website.

We can’t do anything to stop the eight months of cloudy skies and rain we get each year, but Oregon is well on its way to solving the crisis of uninsured children in our state. We’ve also regained our position as a national leader when it comes to health reform, something that positions us well for broader reforms at the national level.

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