The Oregon Health Insurance Lottery
Posted by Alan on March 4, 2008
It sounds more like something from a science fiction movie – the kind that star actors who you recognize, but can’t remember their name. It would be called “Healthy Luck” and the slogan would be something like, “Get lucky. Your health depends on it.” But it’s not science fiction, it’s the very real state of Oregon. And what they’re doing is holding a lottery where the winners get, not cash, but health insurance.
Back in the 1990s (don’t these stories always start back in the 1990s?) Oregon had one of the most progressive health care reform plans of any state. A key part of the program was the Oregon Health Plan, which covered 132,000 Oregonians in 1995. The Oregon Health Plan offered coverage to those unable to afford traditional health insurance, but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.
Then came the budget cuts. Oregon simply couldn’t afford to pay for the program. In 2004 they stopped taking new participants into the Oregon Health Plan. The percentage of the state’s population without insurance is now roughly equivalent to where it stood in the late 80′s, before the creation of the Oregon Health Plan.
Now, however, a few thousand slots have opened up and the state is going to fill it through a series of lotteries. According to the Associated Press, more than 80,000 of Oregon’s 600,000 uninsured have signed up for the chance to enroll in the program which provides basic health care, dental and vision services at little or no cost. It will take a few months to determine the winners.
For those winners, the Oregon lottery is more than science fiction, it’s a dream come true, a life line to the medical care they need. But the very existence of a lottery for health insurance underscores the need for a universal coverage plan that the country and its citizens can afford. That means making tough choices on how to control health care costs. And it means coming up with a workable solution to make access available to all Americans.
And a national health insurance lottery is not the answer.
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