The U.S. Census Bureau released new data yesterday on the extent to which Americans are covered by health insurance. While the nation saw the first increase in health insurance coverage in 12 years, and 15 states saw an increase in coverage, Oregon’s rate of uninsurance remained stagnant, according to an analysis by the Oregon Center for Public Policy, a non-profit research institute in Silverton.
The new health insurance numbers were more bad news for Oregon. Earlier in the week the Census reported that despite the strong economy Oregon’s median household income and poverty rate did not improve in the late 1990s or when compared to the last economic peak in the late 1980s.
The Census figures show that 14.5 percent of Oregonians lacked health insurance in 1998-99, not significantly different from 1997-98, when it was 13.8 percent. An analysis of Census data by the Oregon Center for Public Policy shows that Oregon’s uninsurance rate in 1998-99 also was not significantly different than the pre-recession level from 1988-89, when the rate was 13.1 percent.
“The Census figures send another troubling message to Oregonians,” said Charles Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. “While the nation and 15 states saw an improvement in health insurance coverage, Oregon was sadly stagnant in the late 1990s and showed no improvement from a decade earlier.”
“This new Census report reaffirms that the Oregon Health Plan is ill because its not adequately funded and covering too few people,” said Sheketoff. He noted that the Oregon Health Plan Medicaid expansion saw its enrollment peak in 1995 with 134,000 poor Oregonians receiving coverage. However, the number of people enrolling under the Medicaid expansion fell to 78,000 by late 1999. This year the enrollment has increased slightly to 82,725 in June, 2000.
Other sources of health insurance data show that Oregon’s uninsurance rates fell in the mid-1990s with the implementation of the Oregon Health Plan expansion, but these gains ceased and even reversed in the late 1990s.
State health plan officials have pointed to the implementation of the state Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the state insurance subsidy program, the Family Health Insurance Program (FHIAP), as reasons to believe Oregon is reducing the uninsurance rate. The new Census figures, however, suggest that the state officials have been wrong.
“Oregon’s CHIP program has not received the funding it deserves and serves fewer children than allowed under federal law or compared to other states. In addition, the FHIAP program has failed to meet even its modest goals that 6,500 to 8,000 Oregonians would be able to take advantage of the private insurance subsidy payment. Now, fewer than 5,000 are enrolled, and over 25,000 are on the program’s wait list,” said Sheketoff.
“The extent of employer provided health insurance coverage fell during much of the 1990s, leaving working Oregonians worse off in the late 1990s than a decade earlier,” added Sheketoff.
The fifteen states that saw their rate of uninsurance improve (decline) in 1998-99 were: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Texas. The eight states that saw their rate of uninsurance worsen (increase) were Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.