Oregon Department of Human Services Director's Message
April 24, 2009 DHS Director's messages on the web
To: All DHS employees
From: Bruce Goldberg, M.D., director
Health care coverage is a moral and economic imperative
"An optimist is the human personification of spring."
~Susan J. Bissonette
As I discussed last week, demand for the Oregon Health Plan is predicted to increase by 23 percent in the next budget cycle, a massive jump that is directly tied to the economy. More than 60 percent of Oregonians who have health care receive it through their employer, and as unemployment increases, so does the number of uninsured. Those who were working without insurance find that they are no longer able to manage the medical costs they were paying for out-of-pocket.

It's a situation many Oregon families are facing, and if they have a sick child, too often it can put them in the terrifying position of not having access to life-saving medicine.

Ron and Nicole Renfro with daughters, from left, Emily, Elizabeth and Erin.
Ron and Nicole Renfro with daughters, from left, Emily, Elizabeth and Erin.

The Renfro family knows that fear first-hand. They live in Deschutes County, where the unemployment rate is 14.7 percent, more than two points higher than the rest of the state.

Their nine-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, has a rare medical condition which is treatable -- but requires expensive medications. Just one prescription can cost up to $200 for a 10-day supply. The parents, Ron and Nicole, had been covering the costs, but when Ron's landscaping business went under in the crisis economy of central Oregon, things changed.

"She can go only about three days off of meds and she starts getting sick, and then we have to take her to the emergency room or the doctor," Ron told a DHS worker. "We just weren't able to afford all the drugs."

Ultimately, this family qualified for the Oregon Health Plan, but Ron says he had to swallow some pride in order to do so. He wanted to work but couldn't risk his daughter's health.

"You say to yourself, 'Do I take a job because I'm a hard worker and I should be working but in the process I will lose the insurance my daughter needs and I won't earn enough to pay the medical expenses she's going to have?'"

Recently, Ron found a job in Nevada that has health care coverage, but the family is still left with thousands of dollars in medical bills incurred before they qualified for the Oregon Health Plan.

"Kids need to be covered no matter what the situation is. I'd like to have been able to take a job and not worry about them losing health insurance because I took a job," said Renfro.

With our proposal under consideration in the Oregon legislature, kids will be covered, no matter what the economy does or what struggles their parents face. That would bring important peace of mind for the families of more than 116,000 children.

But we need to do even better than that. All Oregonians need health care. They need affordable health care. They need quality health care.

For decades now, everyone has known that our current system often provides just the opposite. We have expensive, uneven health care that places an unfair burden on American companies and low-income families. This is not sustainable.

While health care reform is under discussion at the national level, in Oregon we are working to expand the Oregon Health Plan to cover not only children, but also more low-income adults. Most of the money for the expansion would come from the federal government, but it will also take a commitment of Oregon resources.

I hope this investment happens because we cannot delay any longer. Health care reform is no longer just a moral imperative. It is a fiscal imperative. If we want to create jobs and rebuild our economy, we must address the crushing cost of health care. As a local newspaper recently editorialized, insuring more Oregonians is a vital first step.

DHS on the web