4 Days in...

Carla Hanson

It's the 4th day of 2014 and....

Unemployment Insurance remains un-addressed in DC

It's exactly one week into the door slamming on 1.3 million unemployed Americans and over 20,000 Oregonians. According to the House Ways and Means Minority committee in a report released yesterday, this has cost the US economy $400 million and Oregon's economy over $6.4 million. Those Oregonians shoved into limbo lost an average of $321/week and are facing a second week without income and dim job prospects. The writers note that the estimated economic impact of $400 million is actually fairly conservative.

The Senate will take up the issue first. So far the only GOP Senator signing on for a UI extension is Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, whose state still suffers from 9% unemployment. Heller and Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island are proposing a modest 3 month UI extension. Rep. Paul Ryan released a docket for the US House - UI was NOT on his GOP priority list.

Minimum Wage bumps up

Approximately 98,000 Oregon workers are enjoying the pay bump that comes with the automatic Cost of Living increase that is tied to the State Minimum Wage. Oregon and 12 other states effected higher minimum wages at the beginning of the year, and Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry estimates the increase will put $234 more dollars in those workers' pockets and $20 million more into Oregon's economy. Oregon's Minimum Wage is second highest in the nation (behind Washington State), and at full-time, a minimum wage earner will earn about $18,900 - around $600 above the poverty level for a family of 3. As a side note, Oregon is among 7 states that do not allow lower minimum wages for tipped workers. This 50 state+ chart reveals some staggering differences in how states treat (or regard?) their lowest paid workers.

The ACA and state exchanges, including Oregon, are rolling...

... a little, but the momentum DOES seem to be building. Oregon's notorious and confusing start has been replete with website glitches and dancing deadlines. Yet, 38,000 Oregonians have managed to sign up - 14,000 through Cover Oregon private plans and 24,000 through the expanded Medicaid program.

There are significant points that could apply to YOU:

  1. If you have sent your application in for financial aid, but have not completed the process, the deadline has been extended to MONDAY, January 6, 5pm to have your coverage begin retroactively on January 1. If you know your case and shopping #s, you can go directly to www.coveroregon.com and click "Select a Plan". If this it is befuddling (It WAS for me and there are a couple of unique characteristics that can trip you up), just call 855-268-3767 and they can walk you through. The phone lines (to REAL people) are open today until 6pm., and will open early on Monday at 7am.

  2. If you want to sign up through Cover Oregon, but have not submitted any applications, your best option right now is connecting with an Agent through Cover Oregon. Click "Get Free Assistance" on the CO website; that will take you to a very navigable page. If you start now, you may be able to get coverage by Feb. 1, whether or not you qualify for financial assistance. Open enrollment ends March 31.

  3. Of the 45,000 Oregonians determined to pre-qualify for the expanded Medicaid - the Oregon Health Plan, folks not yet signed up can be "fast-tracked". The best way to follow the process updated below*. There is not a hard deadline to sign-up.

On a personal note, while the process was a bit daunting to enter, especially with the website fiasco, I have found each and every CO rep to be remarkably attentive, thorough and nice. CO has made a special effort to contact folks stuck in mid-process by phone and email. They have called me and I have called them, and because of the help of these folks, I was able to get better coverage and cut my premium in half.

On a very special note, when I was confirming some of the details above this morning, in chatting with the CO rep, I found out that not only was this her job, but her passion. I will leave her real name out, but "Jane" told me that she was moved to help folks get health care coverage because she lost her brother to cancer. He did not have adequate coverage and could not get the care he needed.

Thank you, Jane. Your brother would be proud.

UPDATE (1/5)

From Patty Wentz of the Oregon Health Authority:

.... a little more information about the "fast-trackers," (that is, people already on SNAP or who are parents of children in Healthy Kids).

People can only enroll through fast track over the phone with OHP or with the letter we sent them. They should not apply through community partners. That will slow things down. Here's the information from the fast-track website.

FAQs:

What if someone is eligible but did not receive a letter?

If someone believes they are eligible and has not received a letter, they should call 1-800-699-9075 to reach an OHP customer service representative.

What if someone loses their fast-track letter?

They can call 1-800-699-9075 and enroll over the phone.

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