AFL-CIO files initiatives proposing health care for all kids in Oregon

SALEM — The Oregon AFL-CIO has filed two versions of a proposed ballot initiative that will guarantee health care for all children in Oregon under the age of 19.

The Oregon Children’s Health Care Act is designed to encourage, expand and make more affordable the provision of health insurance and medical care by employers for the dependent children of their employees and to provide a reliable health care plan for the children of persons not covered by employer-paid insurance or medical care.

The key to the system is a 2 percent payroll assessment to be paid by all employers, with refundable credits to those employers who provide medical benefits to their workers’ dependents. The revenue generated by the payroll assessment would finance an expansion of the Oregon Health Plan (OHP) for children not covered by employer-sponsored medical care. According to the state labor federation, that expansion of the OHP population would:

• Secure more than $500 million per biennium in new federal matching funds;

• Save the state’s general fund an estimated $170 million in tax dollars that now pay for children’s health care in Oregon; and,

• Enable the state to extend free coverage to all children in households below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and to children whose parents are collecting unemployment insurance benefits.

Self-employed persons would have the option of enrolling their children in the plan for a modest premium estimated at $100 per month.

The initiative specifies that benefits for children shall be no less than the benefits in effect in the Oregon Health Plan prior to January of this year, when the state’s budget shortfall forced a reduction in coverage for some of the plan’s recipients.

“This is a way to restore some equity for employers who already provide health benefits for their workers’ children, encourage more employers to do the same and maximize all available federal dollars to guarantee that no child in Oregon will be left without health care,” said Gene Pronovost, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, who is the measure’s chief petitioner.

The measure would be especially helpful to employers that provide full-family coverage and to unions whose negotiated plans and trust funds are more likely to offer full-family benefits than non-union plans, said the Oregon AFL-CIO.

Surveys show that union health plans in Oregon cover twice as many children as non-union health plans.

Two versions of the measure were filed with the secretary of state to create options for different levels of reimbursements to providers. Each version will be reviewed by the Oregon AFL-CIO Executive Board later this year before a decision is made to proceed with an effort to qualify an initiative for the November 2004 ballot.

If approved by the voters, the measure would take effect in July 2005.

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