March 31, 2015

Campaign for Health Equity & Access

by Joseph Santos-Lyons and Kathy Wai

During our Many Rivers Project, APANO’s statewide listening circles initiative that started in 2009, we directly heard from community members about a range of systemic barriers to healthcare. We listened to low-income working class Asian and Pacific Islanders who were barred from the Oregon Health Plan (OHA, our Medicaid program) because of their immigration status. We learned how parents could access health care for their children, but if they were adult immigrants with less than 5 years of US residency, immigrants from Palau, Micronesia or the Marshall Islands, or undocumented, they were barred, excluded, or what policymakers term “medicaid ineligible”.

APANO’s goal is to achieve equitable healthcare for all, focusing on immigrants, workers and women in 2015. Oregon has made some progress in covering legally present children and expanding Medicaid for low-income, legally present adults. Yet there are still thousands of families in Oregon who face exclusions due to their immigration status and have inconsistent access to culturally competent care and reproductive health services. This disproportionately affects our Asian and Pacific Islander communities.

In partnership with other communities of color and the Oregon Health Equity Alliance, we have a strong legislative agenda for Health Equity & Access that APANO will be working on through July & beyond including:

Oregon Basic Health Program (HB 2934) - HB 2934 authorizes the Oregon Health Authority to develop a Basic Health Program (BHP) Blueprint. A BHP Program would improve the lives of over 87,600 low-income working families (138-200% of the Federal Poverty Level) and more affordably cover legal permanent residents who face exclusions to Oregon Health Plan. BHP would expand health insurance coverage, provide better benefits, improve household economic security and build on Oregon’s recent coordinated care innovations. Oregon could achieve all of this at little or no cost to the state, and potentially save participating households over $130/mo or $1,600/yr per enrollee.

Comprehensive Women’s Health (SB 894) - Restrictions on health care have a disproportionate impact on low-income women, women of color, immigrant women, young women, transgender people and women experiencing domestic violence. The Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill would require that insurance, whether paid for by individuals, employers or with government funds, cover contraception, abortion, prenatal care, childbirth and post-partum care. The proposal would also cover a twelve month supply of birth control for Oregonians who can’t see medical care providers regularly.

Paid Sick Time (SB 454) - SB 454 will create a statewide standard that allows all Oregonians to earn sick time while working. Ensuring that working Oregonians have paid sick time means: being able to reduce the spread of illness, allowing people better access to healthcare services, and ensuring that people won’t have to risk their financial security when illness strikes. A disproportionate and increasing number of Oregonians who lack access to paid sick time are Asian Pacific Islander and communities of color. Having access to paid sick time reduces the spread of illness; and improves children’s health by ensuring kids are well cared for by when they’re sick.

Pacific Islander Health Research (HB 2522) - There are over 7,000 “COFA Citizens” in Oregon, immigrants from the Republic of Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. These citizens have the right to work, study and live in Oregon and the US in return for significant military use of their homelands. Many are low-wage workers, eligible for Medicaid (OHP), yet they are denied equal access to public services due to exclusions established by the US Congress in 1996. HB 2522 establishes and funds OHA to research and promote policy solutions to increase healthcare for these Pacific Islanders.

We invite APANO members to get more involved with these efforts by:

  • Attending APANO Lobby Day on Monday April 13th, 2015 at the Oregon Capitol in Salem - register online.
  • Host a conversation in your community about these issues
  • Take leadership by getting more involved in APANO’s Health Equity & Reform Team and/or Strong Families Team and join our legislative advocacy work.

Interested? Please contact Kathy Wai, Policy Advocacy Coordinator or 971-340-4861 to learn more.