Oregon gambles with the lives of the poor

April 4, 2008

OREGON HAS a new lottery. No, you won't win millions of dollars on this lottery, though it may seem like it. A winning "ticket" means you will be one of 10,000 people to qualify for the Oregon Health Plan (OHP), which covers only the poorest Oregonians.

The insurance plan has enrolled no one since 2004, but it now has space for new people. According to the Office for Oregon Health Policy and Research, there are 609,000 Oregonians without health insurance.

Within the first five hours alone, 3,000 people had applied. Thousands more phoned in to try and get enrolled, but only those who qualify will get on the plan, and they will be randomly selected.

Fifty-six-year-old Linda Matthias works part time and can't get health insurance. She was applying for the OHP, and said in an interview told Oregon Public Broadcasting, "It's really hard to get full-time work at my age. They say age discrimination is not there, but it absolutely is."

Linda needs drugs for high cholesterol and back pain. While trying to phone in to enroll, she had great difficulty getting through. "And as I was sitting here," she said, "I was thinking, looking at the folks around me, in some small way, if you get called, you're in competition with them. And who do you say 'no' to? I can't think of a fairer way to do it. But I'm not a good gambler."

To highlight the situation, a report by Families USA stated that one Oregonian dies every day because of lack of health insurance. The report went on to say that between 2000 and 2006, the estimated number of adults between the ages of 25 and 64 in Oregon who died because they did not have health insurance was nearly 1,900.

Across the U.S., in 2006, twice as many people in that same age category died from a lack of health insurance as died from homicide.

Many companies are now using health screenings of potential employees to get discounts on health insurance rates. So if you have a medical condition that isn't being treated because you have no health insurance, then you will not pass the companies' physicals. Consequently, you will not be hired.

This happened to 41-year-old Sebastian Williams of Portland, who had high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar. He had a job lined up as a driver, and only needed to pass the physical. However, the doctor called off the screening.

The Oregonian reported that Williams pleaded with the doctor: "Please, I can get my blood pressure and sugar down. Do you know how hard it is to be a diabetic with no insurance? I really need this job." He then returned to his car and wept.

This is the reality of the health care "system" in the U.S.
Paul Dean, Portland, Ore.

E-mail alerts

Further Reading

Today's Stories

From the archives