Commentary

It’s time to extend low-cost health coverage to all

A “bridge plan” that will cover more Oregonians needs to be expanded even more

November 29, 2022 6:00 am

About 5% of Oregonians have no health insurance and even more are underinsured. (Maj. W. Chris Clyne/ Oregon National Guard Public Affairs)

In this month’s election in Oregon, pro-health care legislators won up and down the ballot, and Measure 111 passed, guaranteeing all Oregonians access to cost-effective and affordable health care as a right within the state constitution.

But what does that mean for people like you and me, and where do we go from here?

Oregon is already on a path to making health insurance more available for low-income people. With the federal public health emergency expiring soon, up to 300,000 Oregonians may lose their access to health care through Medicaid. The state Legislature created a task force last year to design a Basic Health Program to help people who make a little bit too much to stay on Medicaid, yet still need help to afford insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchange – or people who make up to 200% of the federal poverty level, which is $27,180 a year for one person and $55,500 for a family of four.

The Basic Health Program would bridge people from Medicaid to private health insurance coverage. It would be a low-cost health plan with similar benefits and standards to the Oregon Health Plan or Oregon’s version of Medicaid. The plan will be offered through Oregon’s coordinated care organizations, the state’s Medicaid insurers, so that people will maintain access to their doctors to prevent a churn of people cycling in and out of Medicaid.

Especially for people in treatment or with chronic conditions, reliable health insurance and continuing care is critical. This new Basic Health Program will do just that — for working low-income Oregon families that bounce into and out of care as their income fluctuates each year.

But what about people without health care that make more than the income cut off?

In 2019, at least 60% of Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy filings in Oregon included medical debt. And nearly four in 10 Oregonians reported taking at least one detrimental action, such as delaying or canceling doctor’s appointments or skipping prescribed medications due to cost. The cost of care is not just a low-income problem in Oregon.

A coalition of nonprofits, health care professionals, and small businesses is working toward expanding the Basic Health Program to everyone that doesn’t already have health insurance. This “bridge plan” expansion, which would be a public option for everyone, is needed to provide truly affordable health insurance to Oregonians priced out of coverage today.

This issue is personal to me because I’m a small business owner, and I used to have junk health insurance. When I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer (Hodgkin’s lymphoma) five years ago, thankfully I had  good health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. My insurance paid for the six months of chemotherapy and month of radiation it took for me to be in remission today. But because I did not qualify for help in paying my premiums at the time, it was a stretch to keep that insurance – and the thousands of dollars in copays and other costs until I hit the maximum out-of-pocket limits for the year. Going without insurance or with a junk policy wasn’t an option either, because I needed hundreds of thousands of dollars of care to stay alive.

Too many working people in Oregon face the same problems – how to afford their insurance and health care, even when they don’t qualify for financial support. Hundreds of thousands of Oregonians need their care to manage chronic conditions and medical crises, and going without care means much suffering, or even lives lost.

We need to keep moving forward to cover every Oregonian with affordable health care, under Measure 111 and also because it’s the right thing to do. In next year’s legislative session, let’s start with a robust Basic Health Plan, and work to expand this low-cost plan to every Oregonian that needs it.

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Laura Packard
Laura Packard

Laura Packard is a small business owner and stage 4 cancer survivor, and founder of Health Care Voices. She hosts CareTalk, a weekly consumer call-in show on health care and health insurance issues in America on Mondays at 1:30 p.m. Follow @lpackard on Twitter or email her at [email protected]

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