Clip files / Local news from the states

This column features selected short items about state health care policy.

Study shows increase in uninsured workers

TALLAHASSEE, FL—The percentage of working people without health insurance in Florida increased over the past five years, mostly because they couldn’t afford rising premiums, a new state study has found. Nearly 20% of the state’s working age population is without health insurance, compared to about 17% five years ago, according to a study by the state Agency for Health Care Administration.

Of those, more than half went without insurance for a year or more, and 63% blamed unaffordable premiums. State officials point to one bright spot: The number of low-income Floridians with insurance increased, primarily because of state-subsidized programs such as Healthy Kids. The study was intended to provide lawmakers with information as they move to overhaul Medicaid, the state-federal insurance program for the poor, and search for ways to make health insurance more affordable. —St. Petersburg Times, Nov. 18, 2004

Health plan premiums for poor may cease

PORTLAND, OR—A 20-month-old requirement that the state’s poorest pay premiums for Oregon Health Plan coverage may be lifted, if members of the Legislative Emergency Board approve. Oregon Health Plan officials petitioned for the change. Last year, the state imposed premiums of $6 to $20 for coverage under the health plan’s standard plan designed for single adults and couples with incomes below the poverty line. Once the premiums were imposed, enrollment fell from nearly 100,000 to a little more than 50,000.

The falling enrollment helped ease the Oregon Health Plan’s tightening budget. But it also defeated the purpose of the plan, which was to extend health care coverage to the state’s poorest residents. The premium "systematically worked to erode enrollment among people who are most vulnerable,’’ said Ellen Pinney, director of the Oregon Health Action Campaign, an advocacy group for the uninsured.

Under the proposal that Department of Human Services director Gary Weeks advanced, Health Plan members making less than $77 a month for a single person and $112 a month for a couple would no longer pay the $6 premium. Premiums for those with higher incomes would be kept in place.

Ending the $6 premium for the poorest Oregonians would reduce state revenues only slightly, Mr. Weeks said. It would require the Oregon Health Plan to drop about 250 more Oregonians from coverage to make up for the loss. —Corvallis Gazette-Times, Nov. 18, 2004

University receives disparities grant

MOBILE, AL—The University of South Alabama’s Center for Healthy Communities has received a $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to address health care disparities in minority and underserved populations in the area. Programs to be funded include a church-based exercise project, home-monitoring of certain medical conditions for inner-city residents, and a summer enrichment program for minority high school students to help them become competitive applicants for careers in biomedical sciences, according to Martha Arrieta, associate director of the Center for Healthy Communities.

The three-year grant is from the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities’ Project EXPORT, whose awards "support the development of resources and infrastructure . . . as a prelude to initiating full-scale health disparities research, community outreach and training aimed at eliminating health disparities." That means institutions receiving the grants can test health interventions and programs, and the results become public knowledge and can be duplicated, Ms. Arrieta explained. —Mobile Register, Nov. 18, 2004