Oregon Center for Public Policy/November 10, 2014
Some 10,000 low-income Oregonians would gain health insurance and tens of
thousands more would see sharply reduced health insurance costs should the state enact
a “Basic Health Program.” That’s according to a state-commissioned study released
today, which also showed that Oregon can structure the program in such a way as to cost
little or even to generate a small surplus.
The study arrives as health advocates are urging lawmakers to create a Basic Health
Program, an option under the Affordable Care Act. The advocates see Basic Health as a
good way to improve health insurance coverage among low-income adults who make too
much to qualify for the Oregon Health Plan, but too little to easily afford commercial
insurance. The study estimates that 17 percent of this group remains uninsured, despite
recent gains from health reform.
“Basic Health is a bargain,” said Janet Bauer, policy analyst with the Oregon Center for
Public Policy, who reviewed the study. “At little to no cost to the state, Oregon can
improve the health coverage and economic security of tens of thousands of vulnerable
The Affordable Care Act gives states the option of enacting a Basic Health Program to
help adults who make between 138 and 200 percent of the federal poverty line. In the
case of a single parent raising two children, the parent would qualify for Basic Health if
family income were between about $27,000 and $40,000 per year.
Assuming they do not get health insurance from an employer, these low-income adults
currently can use federal tax credits to help purchase insurance through Oregon’s health
insurance marketplace. The study found that even with those subsidies, the average
member of this group has a health care bill of about $1,600 per year, including
premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.
Those costs could shrink or disappear altogether with a Basic Health Program, the study
showed. The study, conducted by the Wakely Consulting Group and the Urban Institute,
modeled several scenarios based on different pricing structures.
“Not having to spend $1,600 per year in health insurance bills is significant for a family
surviving on a very tight budget,” said Bauer. “That amount could cover a month’s rent,
a down-payment on a car or after-school care for a child.”
These savings would accrue to about 56,000 low-income Oregonians currently with
commercial insurance, according to the study.
The report also found that about 10,000 previously uninsured Oregonians could gain
coverage. Among those eligible for Basic Health, the share without health insurance
could fall from 17 percent to as low as 6 percent.
The scenario most affordable for the state would be to operate Basic Health through the
Oregon Health Plan. One option studied is to charge a modest fee to beneficiaries on the
upper end of the income eligibility range. That option would leave the program in the
black in terms of the state budget.
Health advocates welcomed the study, saying that it provides the legislature a path for
structuring an Oregon Basic Health Program that helps many low-income families
without incurring significant costs to the state.
“Basic Health would move us closer to the ultimate goal of making sure all Oregonians
have affordable, quality health insurance, while providing families greater economic
security,” said the Rev. Joseph Santos-Lyons, executive director of the Asian Pacific
American Network of Oregon (APANO) and leader in the Inclusion, Affordability and
Innovation Coalition, which supports consideration of a Basic Health Program in
“When you add the fact that it can be structured in a way that costs the state very little
money if any, Basic Health comes out as the kind of win-win policy that lawmakers
For Immediate Release For More Information, Contact:
Janet Bauer, OCPP (503) 873-1201
Juan Carlos Ordóñez, OCPP (503) 873-1201
Rev. Joseph Santos-Lyons, APANO (971) 340-4861