I’m happy to say that despite all of the bad news coming out of Salem lately thanks to Oregon’s troubled economy, there is a bright spot on the horizon: Oregon is poised to expand health coverage to 80,000 more uninsured children as well as 100,000 low-income adults. HB 2116 has been moved out of the Health care committee into the Revenue committee, where it is expected to be passed out quickly once House and Senate leaders work out an agreement with insurers and hospitals about the funding mechanism.
As a child advocate and a mom of two young kids, I couldn’t be happier about the prospect of the expansion. Now, more than ever, as so many families across the state are struggling to make ends meet, providing increased access to affordable, comprehensive health coverage just makes sense.
Today’s Oregonian editorial points out that this expansion won’t just help uninsured Oregonians -- it will also help our state economy. With the passage of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) at the beginning of February and the increased federal matching dollars for Medicaid as part of the federal stimulus, expanding health coverage for kids and adults will mean Oregon can draw down over $1 billion in federal matching funds. Every million of state funds invested into a federal matching program such as the Oregon Health Plan results in economic activity of, on average, $2.7 million. During these uncertain times, Oregon can’t afford to leave those crucial federal matching dollars on the table.
It’s important that the funding mechanism be sufficient to provide coverage for 80,000 children -- not 60,000 as suggested by the O’s editorial. Not only to all uninsured kids deserve access to health care, but the matching funds provided through SCHIP are in the form of an allotment, which means Oregon needs to use its portion or lose it to other states smart enough to take full advantage of the program. The finish line is within reach -- it’s time to get Oregon’s uninsured kids into coverage programs that have been proven to work -- both for kids and the economy.
However, our health care efforts this session can’t stop at expansion. We also need health reform through the enactment of the Oregon Health Fund Board recommendations. United for a Healthy Oregon, a coalition of organizations representing over 800,000 Oregonians, began the session with a 100 Day Countdown to Health with the goal of passing health reform and expansion by April 22. This week we mark the 100th Day and are pleased to see real progress toward both these goals.
HB2009 passed outof the House Health Care Committee yesterday. This bill went through an extensive amendment process over the last several months and the current version of the bill is very different from where it started. It includes the key elements of the OHFB recommendations including a Health Authority that can consolidate state purchasing of health care services, begin to enact specific cost saving measures and lay the foundation for an Insurance Exchange so that a plan can be brought back to the 2011 Legislature to establish a central marketplace for insurance that provides one-stop shopping for individuals and small businesses, including a public health plan option.
Expansion and real steps toward health reform are important and achievable goals this session. Oregonians and our state’s economic recovery depend upon the achievement of both.