Oregon Republicans shrug off politics, extend benefits to undocumented children

Article author: 
Diane Dietz
Article publisher: 
SJ Statesman Journal
Article date: 
Monday, July 3, 2017
Article category: 
Oregon Issues
Article Body: 

Oregon Republicans took the lead in arguing for spending $36 million on health care for undocumented Oregon children during a Monday session.

The “cover all kids” Senate Bill 558 passed the body on a 21-8 vote. The bill now proceeds to the House where it's likely to find favor with the majority Democrats.

Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, said he’ll take a shellacking for his ‘yes” vote on the bill from constituents who believe extending benefits encourages illegal immigration.

“I can hear the town hall questions; I can write them,” he said.

“I will look at folks with anger in their eyes and they will not listen to the answer that it is less expensive (to provide coverage),” Ferrioli said, finally adding, “Folks can sharpen their knives and load up. I’ll be in the district after the session is over. I can answer the questions then just as I can now.”

The bill would extend coverage under the Oregon Health Plan to an estimated 15,000 children in the state who otherwise would be prohibited from signing up because they lack legal residency status.

Gov. Kate Brown highlighted the cover all kids program as a priority in her proposed budget. Ninety-eight percent of Oregon children are covered today. The bill, which takes effect Jan. 1, would bring the proportion even higher.

A hospital provider tax of 1.7 percent on large hospitals and 4 percent on small hospitals passed in June will pay for the expansion, according to legislative documents.

Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, carried the bill to the Senate floor and made the case that it is really a conservative bill. Children don’t go completely without care, he said. When they turn up sick at hospitals, hospitals have to treat them, and that’s the most expensive way to treat them.

“I know about the optics of this thing. We could get wrapped up in sanctuary this, sanctuary that. We could get wrapped up with immigration this or immigration that,” Kruse said. “This is not about the optics or the politics. This is about health care at a reasonable cost.”

Passing the bill will bring relief to hospitals large and small across the state.

“We have asked hospitals to step up in a major way with the provider tax,” Kruse said. “Now to ask them to absorb (emergency department) care for these kids is just one more ask. That is an ask too much. ...

“Chances are I’m going to take some political hits for this too, but quite honestly, I don’t give a damn. I don’t care about politics, I care about policy and I care about doing the right thing.”

Not all Republicans favored the bill.

“My priority are services to veterans who fought and have been injured for this country and for this state,” said Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, who voted no. “We have not taken care of them the way we need to. If there are tens of millions of dollars, we need to start there.

“We can work our way to seniors who need care in their homes, those with disabilities, those who are vulnerable -- and there are many Oregonians who are in need,” he said.

All Senate Democrats voted in favor of the bill. Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, a high school principal, said schools must teach all the children who turn up. “They only learn when they’re healthy,” he said.

Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, is a public health nurse.

“Every child needs health care regardless of where they were born,” she said. “It is the moral and right thing to do. A child is not responsible for who their parents are, whether they’re legal or illegal, whether they’re rich or whether they’re poor.”