Kruse Leads Senate to Expand Oregon Health Plan to Immigrant Kids

An eight-year battle by the Oregon Latino Health Coalition is nearing an end, as the state plans to spend $36 million covering the last 17,600 uninsured children in the state, undocumented immigrants.

The Senate passed the Cover All Kids Act on a 21-8 vote Monday, with four Republicans joining all the Democrats to ensure that all children living in Oregon will have access to health insurance, regardless of where they were born.

“I’m going to take some political heat for this, but frankly I don’t give a damn,” said Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, as he carried the bill to open the Oregon Health Plan to poor and working-class immigrant children. “I don’t care about politics … I care about doing what is right.”

Senate Bill 558 now heads to the House, where it has broad support.

Supporting free healthcare for undocumented immigrant children is a position that Republican voters may not like, but the bill actually had more Republican sponsors than Democratic ones, as traditional immigrant advocates in the Legislature, like Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, stepped aside to let her Republican colleagues, such as Rep. Andy Olson of Albany and Rep. John Huffman of The Dalles, take the lead.

Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn, and Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, are the sole Democratic sponsors in each chamber.

Kruse said supporting this bill emphasized his fiscal conservatism -- treating kids in the coordinated care model is more cost-effective than relying on emergency rooms. He said Oregon’s hospitals stepped up to the plate to support an increase in the provider tax, and they should have a means of being reimbursed through the Oregon Health Plan for these children.

Gov. Kate Brown had urged lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 558 earlier this session, and it has been an eight-year fight for the Oregon Latino Health Coalition to cover about 17,600 children who live in Oregon without legal permission from immigration authorities. These kids are already learning in Oregon’s public schools. If the bill passes, they’ll do so with health insurance and a way to pay for serious illnesses.

“The Health Care for all Children Act (of 2009) did not include all children,” said Alberto Moreno, director of the Latino health coalition. Washington state had covered undocumented immigrant  kids as early as 2007. “It was that injustice that sourced our justice-seeking today.”

Moreno thanked the Oregon Association of Hospitals & Health Systems for lobbying on behalf of these children this session. The bill provides hospitals with an insurance plan to be reimbursed for care rather than writing off this care as a loss. Rather than leaning on the safety-net, children will be able to participate in the coordinated care system, which aims to more holistically keep people healthy rather than just treat people when they are sick.

“We wanted to make it part of a seamless system,” explained Moreno, noting that Cover All Kids does not actually create a new program with its $36 million budget, it rolls these children in with the existing public healthcare program, through coordinated care organizations. “We wanted our kids to come through the front door. For too long our kids have come through the back door.”

Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, and Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Cottage Grove, had pitched simply shifting more money to aide the safety-net clinics that are already treating these children with primary care. That was the $10 million solution given in 2015, when attempts to expand coverage to these kids failed.

 

Reach Chris Gray at chris@thelundreport.org.

 

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