Health coverage help available

May 14, 2004 11:00 pm

More than 270,000 working Oregonians have no health care coverage.

The operative word here is "working" Oregonians. These aren't people on public assistance. These are people putting in 40 hours a week, but work for companies that do not provide health benefits, or the workers themselves can't afford to pay into their companies' plans.

More than half a million Oregonians total, including children, don't have health insurance — 80 percent of them from working families.

That's one Oregonian out of seven, roughly 14 percent of the population of the state. The percentage is slightly higher in Eastern Oregon — 16 percent.

It's becoming harder for employers to find affordable insurance programs, and more companies are requiring their employees to pay higher premiums and co-pays.

Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic candidate, is trying to make health care a high priority in his campaign. Kerry is calling for repealing George W. Bush's latest tax cuts for families making more than $200,000 and applying these funds toward catastrophic health coverage. However, Kerry has to be elected president and then hammer such a proposal through a likely hostile and uncooperative U.S. Congress. Kerry hasn't put together much of a track record in the U.S. Senate when it comes to health care, according to Republicans. While we'd all like both Kerry and Bush to focus more on health care, don't expect a quick solution on this front.

In Union County, we have 4,067 uninsured individuals. Many of them may qualify for government assisted health care or subsidy programs that help offset the high price of health insurance premiums.

One of these programs, coordinated through the Covering Kids and Families initiative is the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Children in families' whose gross family income is $2,906 monthly or less would qualify for health insurance under SCHIP. This is a comprehensive health plan with no premiums or co-pays.

This week has been designated "Cover the Uninsured Week.'' One state program, the Family Health Insurance Assistance Program, or FHIAP, is getting the word out about immediate openings in that program for lower-income Oregonians who are currently uninsured.

FHIAP is a subsidy program that helps families afford the cost of an employer's health insurance program. Families that earn less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level can earn subsidies that pay from 50 percent to 95 percent of the cost of a health insurance premium. For example, an Oregon employer may offer a group health insurance plan with a $400 monthly premium for a family of four. A worker who qualifies for FHIAP and earns a 90 percent subsidy would only pay $40 per month out of pocket. FHIAP pays the remaining $360.

You can contact FHIAP either through 1-888-564-9669 or through its Web site at www.ipgb.state.or.us.. Union and Wallowa county employers and workers should take advantage of these health insurance opportunities. It's good for Oregon businesses and good for Oregon families.