Brown: Extend Medicaid to more than 17,000 kids
SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown spoke Monday in support of a bipartisan proposal to expand Medicaid coverage to the more than 17,000 children currently ineligible due to their immigration status.
Brown — whose two-year budget included the estimated $55 million the coverage is expected to cost — is joined in her support for the measure by nearly 40 advocacy groups, health care providers and unions.
“It is our duty to ensure that our youngest Oregonians have the tools to grow into healthy adults, with access to education, health care and a bright future,” Brown said during a meeting of the state House Health Care Committee.
It’s a departure from a proposal by top Oregon budget writers to cut Medicaid coverage to roughly 355,000 adults to help fill the state’s $1.8 billion budget hole.
People who joined the program under the Affordable Care Act’s 2014 eligibility expansion would lose coverage.
Advocates, however, characterize the measure, called Cover All Kids, as building on strides the state has made over the years to increase access to health care coverage for children. Lawmakers voted in 2009 to expand kids’ access to Medicaid and subsidized health insurance policies. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act allowed Oregon to expand its Medicaid program to kids in families with incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level. The coverage only applied to lawfully present children, however.
Still, it’s estimated about 2 percent of children in Oregon remain uninsured, the majority of whom are ineligible for coverage because they’re in the country illegally. House Bill 2726, along with its counterpart in the Senate, would extend Medicaid coverage to anyone under age 19 with family incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level — $48,720 annually for a family of two or $73,800 for a family of four — regardless of immigration status.
Medicaid programs in California, Washington state, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., already cover children in the country illegally.
The measure’s sponsors include Republicans Rep. John Huffman of The Dalles, Rep. Andy Olson of Albany and Sen. Brian Boquist of Dallas. Democratic sponsors include Sen. Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay, Rep. Diego Hernandez of Portland, Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson of Gresham, Rep. Teresa Alonso León of Woodburn and Rep. Pam Marsh of Ashland.
Huffman told the audience at Monday’s hearing the bill makes sense both morally and economically.
“Morally, because I have always advocated for supporting our most vulnerable citizens,” he said. Economically, because healthy kids miss less school and their parents miss fewer days of work.
Former Republican Rep. Vic Gilliam also submitted testimony in support of the measure, which he wrote would not be just another government “entitlement” program but would strengthen communities.
Linda Roman, director of health policy and government relations for the Oregon Latino Health Coalition, said in an interview the issue boils down to values.
“I think across party lines, across chambers of the House and the Senate, we all believe that every child in our state on day one of school needs to be prepared and ready to learn,” she said. “I think our legislators in Oregon really understand that and embrace that.”
Even though the coverage would cost the state an estimated $55 million over the next two years, Roman said it would save money in the long run. Access to health care prevents treatable illnesses from becoming expensive health care crises, she said. Further, Roman said children with insurance perform better in school, are more likely to graduate high school and contribute more in taxes later in life.
“We’ve seen that it works,” she said. “It saves money.”
All of the written testimony submitted to the House Health Care Committee ahead of its hearing Monday urged lawmakers to support the measure. Organizations included the Oregon Primary Care Association, Basic Rights Oregon, the Oregon Nurses Association, the Oregon School-Based Health Alliance and several others. Insurance carrier Moda Health and health systems Legacy Health and Providence Health System also voiced support.
Monday’s session was a public hearing; a vote was not held. The Senate Health Care Committee will host a hearing on the measure Tuesday afternoon. Brown is not scheduled to testify at that hearing, but state Sen. Jeff Kruse, a Republican from Roseburg, and Koblan will speak in support of the bill, according to the Oregon Latino Health Coalition.