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State Takes Step Towards Keeping Tens Of Thousands On Health Care Coverage

Gov. Kate Brown announced Monday the appointment of a task force to develop new health plan for the working poor.
An employee of the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services helps a consumer pick a health care plan on the federal online health insurance marketplace. | DEPARTMENT OF CONSUMER AND BUSINESS SERVICES
April 12, 2022

State officials have taken the first step towards crafting a new health care plan to ensure medical care for tens of thousands of low-income Oregonians.

Gov. Kate Brown announced Monday the appointment of 13 people to a new task force that will develop a plan by September. The appointees have expertise in health equity, health insurance, union activities, Medicaid coverage, hospital care, behavioral health care and dentistry.

The plan will be needed when the federal health emergency ends this year. When that happens, the state will have to confirm that everyone on the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s Medicaid program, still meets the income requirements of no more than $1,563 a month for one person and $3,191 for four. 

The Oregon Health Authority suspects that as many as 300,000 people no longer qualify and could lose coverage. These people are the “churn” population – people who cycle on and off Medicaid with changes in their income. They are not people who would normally buy coverage on the health insurance marketplace.

The new insurance – the “bridge plan” – would ensure some of them have health insurance. The state would like the plan to be available by the end of the year to cover them when they’re booted off Medicaid.

“We are appreciative of the work the Bridge Program Task Force will carry out to give guidance to us in designing an equity-centered program to extend coverage to more people in Oregon,” Patrick Allen, health authority director, said in a statement. “There are many questions about how a bridge program might work, and by centering the voices of people with lived experience and expertise, we believe we’ll end up with a better program.”

The first meeting of the task force is scheduled Tuesday, April 19.

With the expansion of Medicaid during the pandemic, Oregon raised its insured rate from 94% to 95.4%, adding tens of thousands of people.

The state wants as many people insured as possible to curb rising health care costs. When people have health insurance, they get earlier care, helping to stem medical problems before they become serious, or they are treated for chronic conditions. Without insurance, people often turn to  the most expensive care: the emergency room.

That’s in part why state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, and an internist at Oregon Health & Science University, favored approving the plan during February’s legislative session. It would save the state money, she said.

But Sen. Fred Girod of Stayton, who joined a minority of Republicans in voting against the plan, worried that it could mean millions of dollars in unforeseen costs.

The cost of the health insurance would be covered by the federal government if it meets national standards and agrees that federal subsidies can be used to pay for the plan, which essentially would amount to a broadening of Medicaid.

The task force is in charge of determining what services it will offer.

Eric Hunter, president and CEO of Portland-based CareOregon, a Medicaid insurer, will be on the task force along with Adrienne Daniels, interim director of Integrated Clinical Services at the Multnomah County Health Department. Daniels is on the Medicaid Advisory Committee. Brown also appointed William Johnson, president of Moda Health, a commercial health insurer, and Lindsey Hopper, executive vice president of PacificSource Health Plans, which serves patients on Medicaid and commercial insurance. Brown also appointed:

  • Low-income worker specialist: Alicia Temple, legislative advocate, Oregon Law Center, to represent low-income workers
  • Health equity experts: Keara Rodela, community and public health programs supervisor, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, and Jonathan Frochtzwajg, public policy and grants manager, Cascade AIDS Project
  • Health insurance exchange expert: Sharmaine Johnson Yarbrough, enrollment and engagement specialist, Wallace Medical Concern
  • Union member: Kirsten Isaacsson, research director, SEIU, Service Employees International Union Local 49
  • Hospital executive: Dr. John Hunter, executive vice president, Oregon Health & Science University
  • Health provider: Dr. Antonio Germann, clinic medical director and family physician, Salud Medical Clinic and Pacific Pediatrics
  • Behavioral health expert: Heather Jefferis, executive director, Oregon Council for Behavioral Health
  • Dentistry expert: Matthew Sinnot, senior director of government Affairs and contracts, Willamette Dental Group

The task force will be co-chaired by Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-Tualatin, and Steiner Hayward. Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Roseburg and Bill Kennemer, R-Canby, will also be on the panel. The government representatives are: Allen; Fariborz Pakseresh, director of the Human Services Department; Andrew Stolfi, director of the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, which oversees health insurers; and Stefanny Caballero, who is on the state Health Policy Board.

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