“Why Not Portland?”
This simple question is both the name of and driving force behind a grassroots campaign to bring low-cost health insurance to the children of Portland public schools.
“It’s terrible that anybody is uninsured, and having uninsured children in our community is unacceptable,” says Dr. Gregg Coodley, the WhyNotPortland campaign’s chief petitioner and co-founder of the Fanno Creek Medical Clinic. “Every kid deserves access to a good doctor.”
The goal of the WhyNotPortland campaign is to provide city-funded health care for the approximately 9000 uninsured kids attending Portland public schools. To reach this goal, Coodley has been raising funds and gathering the 28,000 signatures required from City of Portland voters to officially place the initiative on the November ballot.
If Portland voters support the plan, the City would be required to purchase basic health insurance for all currently uninsured Portland public schoolchildren. Coverage would begin February 1, 2009 and include visits to a primary-care physician with $10 co-pay. Specialty services and prescriptions would be subject to an annual $7,500 deductible, but under the rules of the program, no child can be excluded for a pre-existing medical condition. New students would be eligible for coverage one month after enrolling in a Portland public school. Children previously insured would have a three-month verification period before their coverage becomes effective.
“Our plan provides medical care for the kids of hard-working parents whose employers don’t provide insurance and whose modest income makes them ineligible for public plans like Medicaid and the Oregon Health Plan. We don’t want to see these kids continue to fall through the cracks,” said Coodley.
To pay for the first two years of the program, the City of Portland will be asked to tap into the $33.5 million budget surplus projected for 2008. This means no new taxes are required to put the WhyNotPortland health care plan into action. After the first two years, Portland school districts would be responsible for paying 66 percent of the $4.05 million annual cost of the program. If a school district is unable to pay for the increased costs, it has the option to opt-out of the program without penalty.
Coodley, however, doesn’t foresee schools having to opt out of the program.
“We think that city-funded health insurance will be a powerful incentive for families to move to Portland and enroll their kids in our public schools. With every new student, the state of Oregon gives schools about $6,000 to $7,000 per student, per year, which means for every new student attracted to Portland, about 13 current students could be insured.”
Coodley admits that attracting new families may be difficult and that the WhyNotPortland plan isn’t perfect. But until a viable state or federally funded health care program emerges, he believes that providing catastrophic coverage and primary care to all Portland schoolchildren is a “significant step forward” and “the right thing to do.”