Oregon Law Grants Health Insurance Coverage for Poor

Article excerpt

An Oregon law designed to provide health insurance to those now unable to afford it is drawing attention across the nation and could be of special interest to Oklahoma lawmakers, who enacted a law of their own last session.

Dr. John Kitzhaber, Oregon State Senate President and principal author of the legislation, on Wednesday visited Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City to describe how the Oregon Basic Health Services Act will operate.

The law was enacted in July 1989 and will take about two years to develop, with next July as the target date for the program to be operational, Kitzhaber said.

The act has two key points: to make more people in the state eligible for Medicare health insurance coverage and to provide insurance coverage for people who are employed but whose employers do not currently offer health insurance.

Oklahoma's law, Senate Bill 346, aims to provide affordable health care for the approximately 400,000 employees across the state who are uninsured.

The Oregon act expands Medicare eligibility to 100 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $10,800 for a family of three, Kitzhaber said.

That would mean those whose family income was below that amount would be eligible, he said.

Kitzhaber said the rising cost of health care is prompting many states to raise the eligibility requirements rather than appropriate more money for the state's share of Medicaid, a state-federal program.

The definition of poor gets changed, he said. If the new rule became 50 percent of the poverty level, that would mean a family of three making $5,500 a year would be considered too wealthy for public health care.

And 50 percent is about the average eligibility requirement among the states, Kitzhaber said.

"The way most states have dealt with it, they change the eligibity requirement. They redefine the poor," he said. "That's rationing people."

Under the Oregon plan, health insurance for anyone below the federal poverty level is the responsibility of the state, while anyone above the level is the responsibility of the private sector, he said.

The legislation established a Health Services Commission of physicians and consumers, which is charged with prioritizing health services according to degree of importance. …