Law Provides Health Insurance For All Oregon Children
Health insurance for nearly all of Oregon’s children is now a reality, thanks to House Bill 2116 signed into law by Gov. Ted Kulongoskii in Portland. The “Healthy Kids” legislation, along with the governor’s earlier approval of a companion bill, paves the way for providing affordable health insurance for 95 to 98 percent of Oregon’s children within the next two years. The less than 100-percent goal takes into account the reality that some children live with families that move too frequently or that avoid authorities.
According to an article appearing in the August 3 issue of The Oregonian, Gov. Kulongoski wants his commitment to provide health insurance to children to rub off on President Obama. “I would tell him, ‘Start with children.’ Make sure every child in this country has access to health care. It is not only a health issue. There is a great equality issue in this.”
The new health insurance legislation, which is slated to be phased into place by January 2010, expands state health insurance coverage to 80,000 uninsured children and 35,000 low-income adults. This measure essentially reduces the number of uninsured people in Oregon by one-third, and makes Oregon one of just eleven states committed to extending universal health care to children.
To pay for this additional coverage, a 1 percent tax is being added to health insurance premiums, as well as an increase in “provider taxes” on most Oregon hospitals.
The new health insurance program originally met some opposition from hospitals because of the proposed tax, although it is expected that the added cost will be completely offset by new federal Medicaid monies for Oregon associated with the increase in state health care spending. Although insurance companies did not support the plan, they agreed not to oppose it.
To handle the expected influx of applicants and the expansion of the health insurance program, the state Department of Human Services created the Office of Healthy Kids and has added about 100 new positions. Employees will begin by enrolling thousands of children who qualified for the Oregon Health Plan even before the new law was signed. Those children live in families with incomes up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $22,050 for a family of four.
In January, the state will begin to subsidize, on a sliding scale, private employer health insurance for children who live in families that earn between 201 and 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Children from families in that income range who do not have employer insurance can buy into the new state-sponsored insurance option, which will also be available to all Oregon children. The plan does not, however, cover children who are illegal immigrants.
By offering health insurance to more of Oregon’s children, Gov. Kulongoski and other proponents of the plan hope to see improvements in vaccination rates, early detection of autism, better asthma care, and other benefits. Oregon residents who want to learn more about the new health insurance program or enroll their children can visit www.oregonhealthykids.gov or call 877-314-5678.
The Oregonian, Bill Graves 8/3/09
OPB News 8/4/09