440,000 Oregonians may lose health care under Obamacare repeal

    SALEM — State health officials say 440,000 Oregon residents could lose health care under the U.S. Senate's proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act, potentially causing the state's uninsured rate to triple to 15 percent by as early as 2021.

    Proposed cuts to federal Medicaid funds would also shift more than $6.2 billion in costs to the state and eliminate 23,000 health-related jobs statewide by 2026, while older individuals would be strapped with much higher insurance premiums on the commercial market than younger individuals, Oregon Health Authority officials said Wednesday.

    Roughly 1 million Oregon residents, a quarter of the state's population, receive government-funded health care under the state's Medicaid program called the Oregon Health Plan. About 350,000 of those residents were brought into the program under the ACA's Medicaid expansion, which would be phased out over several years.

    During a briefing with the state Capitol press, Democratic Gov. Kate Brown said the latest proposal isn't any better than an earlier version that passed the U.S. House in May, which would've imposed less-severe cuts to federal Medicaid expansion dollars and phased out the program on a shorter timeline.

    "The legislation is cruel," Brown said. "It forces Americans to pay more for inferior care. It will slash funding for public health emergencies, epidemics and opioid-abuse treatment ... it incentivizes the states to strip health care from people with disabilities, older Oregonians and children who are dependent on Medicaid, and, I think you're all aware, it defunds Planned Parenthood for an entire year."

    Costs associated with the Oregon Health Plan were largely responsible for an expected shortfall, previously $1.4 billion, in the state's 2017-19 budget. Last week, the Oregon Legislature passed several health-related bills to cover most of that gap, namely through a $670 million health care provider tax designed to sustain the Medicaid program for the next two years.

    The U.S. Senate GOP's proposal would have a minimal impact on the state's 2017-19 budget, but eventually coverage and benefits would be cut or costs would be shifted to consumers.

    "The Senate and House bills go far beyond repealing the Affordable Care Act," OHA Director Lynne Saxton said in a statement. "We encourage our federal partners to work with states like Oregon to maintain coverage, provide better health care and hold down costs through cost-effective innovations like Oregon's coordinated care system."

    Oregon residents who buy health plans through a government exchange from insurers such as Moda Health Plan, Providence Health Plan and Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon saw double-digit increases of more than 20 percent in their 2017 premium rates. Residents in some rural areas also saw some insurers drop out of the market entirely.

    That trend may continue in 2018. Regence, for instance, plans to pull out of Jackson County in southwestern Oregon, which means county residents will have two insurers to choose from next year on the government exchange versus five in 2016. Insurance companies statewide have also asked the state's permission for double-digit rate increases again in 2018.

    The Department of Consumer and Business Services is releasing its preliminary decision on those requests on Friday and make a final decision later this summer.

    "The Oregon health insurance market has had challenges, and although we have taken steps to stabilize it, there still is much work to do," DCBS Director Patrick Allen said in a joint-statement with OHA regarding the Obamacare repeal proposal. "We are committed to providing Oregonians with access to high-quality, affordable insurance options."

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