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Oregon "Mediocre" In Health Insurance Coverage

News Release
September 28, 2001

Nation and 18 States See Increase In Health Insurance Coverage While Oregon Is Stagnant Or Worsening

The U.S. Census Bureau released new data today on the extent to which Americans are covered by health insurance. While the nation saw an increase in health insurance coverage and a decrease in the number of uninsured, and 18 states saw an increase in coverage, Oregon's rate of uninsurance remained stagnant from 1998-99 to 1999-2000 and was no different than the national average, according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy, a non-profit research institute in Silverton.

Related materials:

See the Census Health Insurance Data Page

See Revised Data (PDF) Office for Oregon Health Plan Policy and Research

"Things do look different here: now we're mediocre," said Charles Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy, referring to the state tourism slogan and Oregon's reputation as being a leader in getting it residents insured through the Oregon Health Plan.

The new health insurance numbers from the federal government come on the heels of an analysis of a state population survey that shows Oregon's uninsurance rate actually worsened in the late 1990s. The Oregon Center for Public Policy today released a new analysis of the Oregon Population Survey that shows that Oregon's rate of uninsurance increased from 1998 to 2000 and that there are 100,000 more uninsured Oregonians than previously reported. The new analysis was prepared by the Oregon Office of Oregon Health Plan Policy & Research and contradicts earlier information that agency and the Oregon Progress Board gave to the Legislature when redesign of the Oregon Health Plan was under consideration.

"The Census figures, when coupled with the new state figures that show a worsening of the uninsurance rate and more uninsured, should cause state health policy officials to rethink their strategy for addressing Oregon's uninsurance problem," said Sheketoff.

"Given the clear slowdown in Oregon's economy, the lack of improvement in the final years of the economic expansion raises serious questions about relying on employer provided coverage to improve Oregon's uninsurance rate," said Sheketoff. "State health policy officials are hoping that employers will pick up the slack, and they are also shifting costs to consumers right when the economy is taking a turn for the worse. That makes no sense," said Sheketoff.

"The state's recent realization that there are 100,000 more uninsured Oregonians than previously thought makes the budget for the OHP inadequate," said Sheketoff. "You can't add that many people and still reduce the uninsurance rate with the same amount of money," said Sheketoff.

The Census figures show that 13.8 percent of Oregonians lacked health insurance in 1999-2000, not significantly different from 1998-99, when it was 13.7 percent. Because Census changed its methodology for calculating the uninsurance rate, comparisons with prior years cannot be made at this time.

Other data sources, however, show Oregon's uninsurance rates fell in the mid-1990s with the implementation of the Oregon Health Plan expansion, but these gains appear to have ceased and even reversed in the late 1990s.

"The Census figures send another troubling economic message to Oregonians," said Jeff Thompson, economist and policy analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy. "While the nation and 18 states saw an improvement in health insurance coverage, Oregon was sadly stagnant in the late 1990s despite our prosperity."

"Unless Oregon changes its strategy and tactics, having 1 out of 7 Oregonians lacking insurance may be as good as it gets," said Thompson. "Workers typically don't fully recover from recessions, so I am not optimistic that we will get below this level without a significant change of course in public policy."

"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 Thompson.

The eighteen states that saw their rate of uninsurance improve (decline) in 1998-99 were: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Wisconsin. The eight states that saw their rate of uninsurance worsen (increase) were Alaska, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Washington.

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Posted in Health Care.

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