Oregon’s Progress on Health Coverage Shows Progress on Poverty Is Also Possible

Chuck Sheketoff

Today the U.S. Census Bureau announced a decline in the share of Oregonians without health insurance — evidence that public structures can address pressing social problems. OCPP has summarized this and other key Oregon numbers contained in the Census release.

Ideally, today’s news would galvanize support for an all-out effort, at both the state and national levels, to reduce poverty. What’s required is the same political leadership that it took to reform health care nationally and in Oregon.

When it comes to reducing the number of uninsured, today’s Current Population Survey shows Oregon stands out nationally. From the recession period of 2008-09 to the recovery period of 2010-11, Oregon was the only state in the nation to record a significant decline in the share of people without health insurance. Oregon’s rate of people without health insurance fell from 16.6 percent to 14.9 percent — a 10.2 percent improvement — between those two-year time periods.

This progress reflects some of the early positive changes put in place by the federal Affordable Care Act. For instance, the federal health reform law allows people under the age of 26 to stay on their parents’ private health insurance plans and put in place tax credits for employers who offer health coverage. These public structures undoubtedly contributed to the improvement nationally and in Oregon.

Oregon’s singular performance with regard to health insurance coverage also reflects the decisive action by Oregon’s legislature in creating a public structure to address eroding coverage. Since 2009, the state’s Healthy Kids program has extended coverage and subsidies for insurance to tens of thousands of Oregon children. This accomplishment is reflected in the survey findings showing Medicaid coverage for children shot up by 6.1 percentage points since 2008-09.

Unfortunately, today’s Census data release also contained troubling news with respect to poverty. Oregon’s poverty rate increased 2.3 percentage points and its child poverty rate increased 5.3 percentage points since 2008-09. (Nationally, poverty and child poverty rates remained unchanged from 2010 to 2011). Thus, poverty worsened despite the solid economic growth in Oregon following the end of the Great Recession.

Just as we’ve made progress in reducing the problem of people lacking health coverage, our state and nation can take steps to drastically reduce poverty. We just need political leadership.

Oregon Center for Public PolicyChuck Sheketoff is the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. You can sign up to receive email notification of OCPP materials at www.ocpp.org.

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    Chuck, what are the actual percentage numbers of the poverty increases? (Like, 16% to 18.3%?). Assuming it's somewhere in that ballpark, we are talking something like a 15% rise in the overall level, using the same kind of calculation you use for 10.2% progress on health insurance, yes?

    Why does Oregon stand out from the national pattern? Does the national average disguise a gap among states with some increasing poverty, like Oregon, and some reducing poverty?

    Can we tell if the poverty increases are geographically focused? Are there correlations with employment, with foreclosures, with tight rental markets? Something else?

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