ACCORDING TO A STATEWIDE SURVEY carried out by the Oregon Health Authority, an estimated 560,000 Oregonians, or approximately 14.6% of the stateâ€™s population, went without health insurance in 2011. Of that number, approximately 52,000 are under the age of 19. Sobering figures, and yet thereâ€™s a bright side: that is down by half from only two years ago. For that, we can thank the efforts of Healthy Kids, an initiative launched by the OHA in 2009 with the goal of providing affordable, quality health insurance to all Oregon children. Since its conception, more than 90,000 young Oregonians now have access to comprehensive no-cost and low-cost health coverage and the peace of mind that goes with it, thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of outreach and enrollment workers throughout the state.
In Clatsop County, that would be Judi Mahoney, a former Portland schoolteacher and longtime advocate for both childrenâ€™s welfare and the improvement of Oregonâ€™s healthcare system, who has served as an independent contractor for the Healthy Kids program since August, 2011.
â€œMy husband works for the (Clatsop County Public) Health Department, and the Director, Margo Lalich, was looking for someone to fill this position. We had just moved here last year so I was looking for employment, and she knew that I spoke Spanish â€“ Iâ€™m a former Spanish teacher â€“ and she thought itâ€™d be a good fit, since a good deal of the folks we work with are through the schools. Sometimes when youâ€™re getting into the schools and trying to figure out how to promote something, itâ€™s good to know the culture and the climate.â€
Mahoneyâ€™s goal is to garner 120 new enrollments throughout the county by the end of her first year, a â€œquestâ€ she takes seriously; while she works out of the Health and Human Services offices here in Astoria, she has no office of her own, which enables her to take Healthy Kids to the families who could use it rather than wait for them to come to it.
â€œI do house calls,â€ she says. â€œFolks call me up, I get a lot of referrals from schools as well, and typically I go to their homes, since thatâ€™s where people keep their pay stubs and other information I might need, and help sign them up. I also work a lot with Spanish-speaking families; all the handouts and brochures I have are available in Spanish, which is helpful.â€
When sheâ€™s not helping families through the application process, sheâ€™s out drumming up awareness of the program; despite the enormous strides Healthy Kids has made in two short years, a lot of Oregonians donâ€™t understand what it is, or worse, even know it exists.
â€œThereâ€™s been a little bit of marketing confusion. A lot of people have heard of the Oregon Health Plan, but when they hear about Healthy Kids, they may not be aware that itâ€™s health insurance or even know what itâ€™s about. So weâ€™re working to get the word out.â€
Allow me to do my part, then: Every Oregon child without health coverage is eligible for Healthy Kids, provided he or she is 18 years old or younger, live in Oregon and a legal U.S. resident. All eligible children must be uninsured for two months to qualify, though exceptions can be made under certain circumstances. There are no waiting lists and no child will be turned away because of pre-existing conditions. Children are covered for one full year after enrollment and coverage can be extended for as long as they are eligible. Depending on income, families will be eligible for No-Cost, Low-Cost, or Full-Cost payment options. (For more detailed guidelines, see contact information below.)
By any measure, Healthy Kids has been a rousing success so far. More Oregonian children have access to affordable medical care than ever before, and the program has helped the state win a $22.5 million performance bonus for surpassing its enrollment targets and adopting streamlined and improved application procedures. But, as long as there remains one child without health insurance, the work continues and challenges loom.
â€œIâ€™m really the only one whoâ€™s officially working on this in the county,â€ Mahoney says, though several businesses in the community, including Darlene Warren Insurance in Warrenton and Knutsen Financial Services in Astoria, have offered up their services as â€œassister locationsâ€ to help families through the application process. In addition, members of various county agencies, advocacy organizations and business groups have joined to form the Clatsop County Healthy Kids Coalition, who will meet every six to eight weeks to discuss and devise new outreach opportunities. â€œIâ€™d really like to see more people promoting this from all walks of life within the county. For example, members of the faith-based community could spread the word through sermons and newsletters; someone can sponsor a Healthy Kids soccer tournament; or even just simple word-of-mouth. Even if you have nothing to do with children, weâ€™re a very well-connected community. Everybody knows people. And the more people we have to help promote what weâ€™re doing, the more we can make some amazing things happen. Iâ€™m very optimistic.â€
For more information, to apply for benefits or if you are interested in partnering with Healthy Kids, go to their website at www.oregonhealthykids.gov or call 1-877-314-5678. Check out their Facebook page â€“ www.facebook.com/OregonHealthyKids – or follow them on Twitter – @OregonHealthyKids. Judi Mahoney can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 503-358-2333.
Every Oregon child without health coverage is eligible for Healthy Kids, provided he or she is 18 years old or younger, live in Oregon and a legal U.S. resident.