In Short

Thousands of Oregonians will gain free health care coverage starting in July

By: - June 23, 2022 3:59 pm
Emergency room sign at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center

People without insurance often use emergency rooms for health care which drives up costs. (Lynne Terry/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Thousands of low-income Oregonians who would qualify for Medicaid if they were legal residents will receive free health care insurance starting July 1.

The Oregon Health Authority expects to enroll about 12,000 people who have had only state-paid emergency care in new government insurance for medical, mental health, dental and eye care. It will also offer prescriptions, tests, hospital care and medical transport. Like Medicaid, it will be free for patients.

The Legislature created the program in 2021, allocating $100 million to insure undocumented residents. The funding covers the program through June 30, 2023, the end of the budget biennium. 

“The new coverage will not only save lives but will improve them,” Philip Schmidt, a spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority said. “OHA believes that this is a key step towards health equity in our state.”

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To qualify, undocumented residents must earn less than $18,075 a year for one person or $36,908 for a family of four. 

The state is picking up the cost because the federal insurance program – Medicaid – doesn’t allow participation by undocumented residents.

The initiative is part of the agency’s goal of eliminating health inequities in Oregon by 2030.

At the moment, the 12,000 people who will be eligible for the new program have state-paid emergency care. This applies when a person’s health is in danger or they need immediate care to prevent impairment of a bodily function, part or organ. This includes trauma care following an accident, for example. They will be automatically enrolled in the new insurance. and most will be paired with a Medicaid insurer or coordinated care organization, which hare regionally based. 

Though paying for comprehensive care is more expensive, state officials estimate that it will reduce high-cost care in the long run.

“Over time, OHA anticipates that greater access to preventive care, care coordination and comprehensive benefits will reduce emergency department visits and other high cost care,” Schmidt said.

The new program will not cover all undocumented residents. The Legislature directed the health authority to work with community groups to determine who should be covered. They decided the elderly – those 55 and older – should be included and people aged 19 through 25. All minors in low-income families in Oregon are already covered. Those who are 27 to 54 will continue to receive only emergency care insurance.

If the program is expanded to all ages in the future, the health authority expects 55,000 people to qualify.


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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry, who has more than 30 years of journalism experience, is Oregon Capital Chronicle's editor-in-chief. She previously was editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site; reported on health in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio.