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When 12-year-old Raul Perez was diagnosed with a heart problem last fall, his family's immediate question was how could they afford to pay for medical treatment.

PARIS ACHEN/CAPITAL BUREAU - Raul Perez, 12, (right) and his mother, Norma, (left) listen to a hearing on a bill that would expand health coverage to undocumented children, during a meeting of the House Committee on Health Care Monday, Feb. 20, 2017.SALEM — When 12-year-old Raul Perez was diagnosed with a heart problem last fall, his family's immediate question was how could they afford to pay for medical treatment.

Because Raul came to the United States undocumented at age 3 and lacks a Social Security card, he is ineligible for coverage under the Oregon Health Plan. His mother, a housekeeper, said she and his father, a landscaper, cannot afford the surgery he will eventually need to repair the hole between the top two chambers of his heart.

"Right now, he does not have health insurance, so I cannot sleep at all," she said. "For me, it is really hard to see how much it's going to be, how much it's going to cost for us."

When Raul speaks, there is no hint of his Mexican origin in his voice. His accent sounds Oregonian as he spouts perfect standard English and helps his mother articulate her thoughts in her adopted language.

Meanwhile, Raul's 5-year-old sister qualifies for the state Medicaid program because she was born in this country.

Gov. Kate Brown, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and advocates argue that Perez should receive the same benefits as his sister.

The lawmakers have sponsored legislation that would allow the Oregon Health Authority to give health coverage to the more than 17,000 undocumented children in the state, effective July 1. Children in households that earn 300 percent of federal poverty level are eligible for the state health program.

The bill was first proposed by former Rep. Vic Gilliam, R-Silverton, who resigned earlier this month due to his battle with ALS. Gilliam sought to pass the same legislation in 2015, but it died in the Senate.

Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, read testimony by Gilliam in support of this year's bill during a hearing in the House Committee on Health Care.

"The bill offers care and compassion to a vulnerable Oregon population, and it offers savings and illness prevention for all Oregonians," Gilliam wrote. "Our communities are stronger when all of our children are healthy."

Gov. Brown has included the $55 million biennial cost to add the coverage in her proposed budget, released in December. The cost can only be paid for with state general fund dollars.

PARIS ACHEN/CAPITAL BUREAU - Gov. Kate Brown testifies in support of a bill to expand health coverage to undocumented children, during a hearing in the House Committee in Health Care at the Oregon Capitol in Salem Monday, Feb. 20."Oregon children should have the opportunity to be healthy and ready to learn, and Oregon families should feel confident that a medical event will not dramatically change the trajectory of their lives," the governor testified Monday.


Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau
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