In 1994, I was a practicing physician at a small community health center. Many of my patients were uninsured and had limited ability to pay for their care. And yet, they needed care; many of them needed quite a bit. Every day was a scramble to find sources for medications, necessary tests, and treatments. Often times – too many times – I came up short. Without health care coverage, providing even basic care for people can be an unending struggle for both the patient and clinician.
In 1994, that changed overnight. That was the year some 120,000 people suddenly had health care coverage thanks to the new Oregon Health Plan. I immediately started seeing a difference after OHP opened for enrollment. Patients could get needed medicines, I could send them for tests, and plan short and long-term treatments that helped to heal them.
My ability to help my patients improved dramatically and quickly. The experience gave me an important lesson in just how much health insurance matters. Not in a theoretical, policy or political manner. But, in very personal and often lifesaving ways.
I was reminded of this over the past few weeks as two reports released by the U.S. Census show that Oregon is one of the nation’s leaders in reducing the number of people without health insurance.
This makes me so proud of the work we are doing. As we strive to create a more sustainable, affordable, and patient-centered health system, we are also giving more people better access to that system. This will bring health and greater stability to individuals and families, helping them avoid preventable health crises and medical bankruptcy
Even as the percentage of uninsured lowers, one in five working age Oregonians still remain without health insurance. That’s a drain on families, on our health care system and on our economy.
So as we celebrate the very good news that fewer Oregonians are living with the uncertainty of being without health care coverage, we must also stay aware that we still have a long way to go.
Based on everything we have accomplished so far, I know we can get there.