Governor kicks off kids’ health care program promotion in NE Portland

Getting health care coverage for 117,000 uninsured Oregon children is a top priority, Gov. Ted Kulongoski tells school teachers and administrators …

Student Joana Rodriguez spends a few minutes talking with Gov. Kulongoski before he kicks off the “Covering Kids and Families Back-to-School Campaign” at Helensview School in northeast Portland.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
If Gov. Ted Kulongoski has his way, “every child in Oregon will be afforded medical and dental car, whether or not their family can afford insurance”.

This is the message Kulongoski delivered to a receptive group of school administrators and teachers at Helensview School in outer Northeast Portland on August 17.

Warming up the crowd, Kulongoski began, “Here we are, in a school; and to many of us, we realize that summer is passing. While I’m sad summer is about to end, it moves me closer to November 7 [election day]. But we’re here to talk about health care for all children.”

The governor said three major institutions charged with socialization: Families, churches, and schools. When families and churches play less of a role, schools play a larger role, he said.

“Statistically, we have more than 900,000 kids in Oregon under age 19. Over 500,000 of them are in our K-12 educational system. Educators can have an impact on children,” said the Governor.

Kulongoski tells the group, “‚Ķ like the line from the movie, ‘Cool Hand Luke’, ‘we have a failure to communicate’ that health care for kids is available.”

“Of the children in Oregon, 117,000, or about 13% of them under the age of 19, are uninsured. We’re trying to find how to provide health care for them. 60% of them are eligible for the Oregon Health Plan. There are the resources available. But, like the line from the movie, ‘Cool Hand Luke’, ‘we have a failure to communicate’ that health care for kids is available.

“When a youngster has a toothache, he or she can’t concentrate on school. Should they then become really sick, they end up in the emergency room.

“In our next state congressional session, we have scheduled to find ways to have health care for every child, from prenatal until age 19. In most cases, these kids’ parents are working. Their employer does not provide healthcare for them.

“A solution seemed to be a low-cost insurance program for employees. We have the plan, but with the rising cost of health care, it is too expensive for many working families. We will provide a public subsidy to see that they have access to health care.

“I’m committed to school-based health care centers. Some Portland areas centers are open during the evening and weekends.”

Statistics and goals
Kulongoski introduced Ellen Pinney, with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, representing the Oregon Health Action Campaign, who presented data about Oregon’s uninsured.

“Since 2002, the number of uninsured children has increased from 10% to 13%. We have been able to find resources, but many are still not enrolled. Kids are twice as likely not to receive medical care as an adult,” Pinney stated.

Goals she presented included providing kids with a checkup up before school begins; taking care of small medical problems before they become major; and not making families choose between health care and putting food on the table. “Healthy kids learn better,” Pinney concluded.

A school nurse’s view
Bill Tomlinson told how, from his experience as a school nurse for 18 years, young students’ health problems do affect their ability to learn.

There are three main reasons, Tomlinson said, why many families who are eligible don’t enroll in free health care programs. “First, the application and reapplication process is complicated, and requires follow-through. Second, families don’t see kids’ health insurance as a priority. And finally, for recent immigrants, the concept of health insurance is foreign to them.”

The Tomlinson mentioned that Multnomah Educational Service District has two full-time people assigned to enrolling kids in state-sponsored health care plans.

“In Spanish, the word for ‘insurance’ is ‘security’,” Tomlinson concluded.

More comments
After these presentations, representatives from two families told the gathering how much they appreciated having health care provided for them.

The principal of East Gresham Elementary School, Todd Gestrin, claims his school signs up more kids for state-sponsored health insurance than any other Portland-area school.

Last on the program, Todd Gestrin, principal of East Gresham Elementary School addressed the group, “We’ve had the highest enrollment of any school in outer East County. It takes a whole community to take care of kids. When we hold ‘insurance sign-up nights’, we have families who will walk a mile to get there. Health care is not something first-graders can do for themselves.”

Kulongoski concluded the meeting by saying, “Teachers can’t talk about his, but I can. We have suffered from a very difficult time with declining state resources, and employers cutting back on health care. The state is trying to fill the hole.

“In the next legislative session, we have the ability to make a plan to invest in health care for students from preschool through university. See that the legislature makes the investment.

“If you get a good education, you can do anything you want, even become governor.”

To find out more, call 1-877-KIDS-NOW.

It was a media feeding-frenzy after the meeting as several reporters asked the governor to repeat his comments for them in short, easy-to-edit sound bites.

¬© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News

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