Kulongoski stumps for the Oregon Health Plan

Kulongoski stumps for the Oregon Health Plan

WHITE CITY — Gov. Ted Kulongoski said Tuesday that federal dollars will pay for about two-thirds of his plan to expand the Oregon Health Plan if the Oregon Legislature will kick in the state's share of matching funds.

"There's a billion dollars in Washington with Oregon's name on it," Kulongoski said. "They won't give it to us until we put up a 40 percent match."

The governor visited the Community Health Center in White City to encourage support for his proposals to provide access to health care for uninsured children and add about 75,000 adults to the Oregon Health Plan. Oregon's "safety net" clinics, including Community Health Center and La Clinica in Jackson County, received additional funding as part of the federal economic stimulus package to serve families that have lost their jobs or their health insurance.

"It is a benefit to all of us to assure people have access to health care," he said, because people without insurance often delay seeking medical care until they visit a hospital emergency room, which Kulongoski called "the most expensive point in the (health-care) system." The hospitals' costs are eventually passed on to people who have health insurance in the form of higher premiums.

Expanding health coverage also would add about 6,000 jobs, the governor said.

Community Health Center received $263,000 in stimulus funds, which will be used to keep some staff positions that would have had to be eliminated. La Clinica received $279,000, which will be used to expand its dental program and stabilize funding for its "Healthy Start" program, which provides support for new families that are at risk for child abuse and neglect.

Stacy Equitz of Shady Cove told the governor she would be lost without the health coverage her two children receive through the Oregon Health Plan. Equitz lost her restaurant job, and is studying nursing.

"Thank God for OHP," she said. "If it wasn't for OHP I don't know where I'd be right now."

Kulongoski said containing health costs has to be part of the state's health-care reform package. "Ultimately, the only way the state can sustain any health plan is if you have incentives to reduce costs," he said, acknowledging that "cost containment will be a very tough challenge for the Legislature."

The governor also talked about Oregon's economic outlook and its soaring unemployment rate, which reached 13.9 percent in Jackson County in March. He said economists he's consulted all agreed that the recession will bottom out by the end of 2009 or early 2010. Unfortunately, there was no agreement at all about how the recovery will play out in Oregon, and some concern that the job growth that traditionally follows the end of recessions might not occur for several years.

He said Oregon is a leader in developing solar technology and he praised Medford's proposals to build a solar farm at the airport and install solar panels on roof buildings.

He said Southern Oregon's sunny skies give the region tremendous potential for solar energy. "There's more sun down here per day than there is in Portland or the (Willamette) valley," he said.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail

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