Governor, U.S. senators say people should enroll despite attempts by Trump, Congress to repeal or weaken the Affordable Care Act.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: PETER WONG - Gov. Kate Brown speaks Thursday, Nov. 1, at annual kickoff of signups for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The event was at the Asian Health and Service Center in Southeast Portland. U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley are seated in the front row.Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon's U.S. senators say people should not be deterred by actions of President Donald Trump and Congress to sign up for coverage through the Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace.

They spoke on Thursday, Nov. 1, the first day of enrollment for 2019 coverage that takes effect Jan. 1. The deadline for enrollment is Dec. 15.

Brown, Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and others were at a kickoff event at the Asian Health and Service Center in Southeast Portland. All three are Democrats, although the event was nonpartisan.

The Asian center opened in 1983 — Wyden participated while he was a U.S. representative — and chief executive officer Holden Leung described it as one-stop assistance for Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and others from Asia who may not understand an insurance marketplace as a benefit to them.

"Some immigrants are afraid that anything they get from the government will be used as a challenge when they are about to become citizens," Leung said.

A record 156,000 Oregonians signed up for coverage a year ago — and 115,000 of them (more than 70 percent) qualified for federal assistance under the Affordable Care Act to pay the premiums. Aid is in the form of tax credits, which are subtracted directly from taxes owed. The average reduction for those who apply for insurance through is $410 per month, or about 70 percent.

Combined with an expansion of the Oregon Health Plan — the state's version of Medicaid for low-income people — and other measures in recent years, Brown said all children and 94 percent of adults have coverage.

Of the remaining people uninsured, she said, 80 percent qualify for the Oregon Health Plan or federal assistance toward private insurance — and if they are covered, Oregon's total will rise to 99 percent.

"Health care coverage ensures that people can lead healthy and productive lives," Brown said. "Under my leadership, we are fighting for our vulnerable people, especially our kids and our loved ones with pre-existing conditions

"At a time when our federal government is undermining access to health care, it's up to the states to step up to the plate."

Law under attack

Since Republican Donald Trump became president in 2017, a repeal of the 2010 Affordable Care Act signed by his predecessor — also known as "Obamacare" — passed the House but died in the Senate. The law requires insurers to provide coverage, regardless of whether people have pre-existing medical conditions, and cannot charge them more — and that coverage must offer specified services.

"Despite the endless efforts of the Trump administration to change them, those protections are there," Wyden said. "But we are far from being out of the woods."

Republican congressional majorities at the end of 2017 did push through an overhaul of the federal tax code that drops penalties on people who fail to obtain insurance coverage under an "individual mandate."

Cameron Smith, director of the Department of Consumer and Business Services — the parent agency for the Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace, which began in mid-2015 — said it remains to be seen whether that repeal will result in fewer people signing up this year.

Trump also has declined to defend the law against a challenge, now pending in federal court in Texas, brought by Republican attorneys general in several states. His administration has signaled a willingness to approve sales of insurance plans that do not provide the full breadth of coverage of services required under the 2010 law.

Wyden is the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, which writes health-care financing legislation. He has called such stripped-down plans "junk insurance."

Brown said Oregon will respond to such federal changes if they occur.

"We are putting consumer protections into state law as an insurance policy to protect against changes at the federal level," she said. "We are seeking innovative solutions to control insurance costs and keep the health insurance marketplace in Oregon stable and sustainable."

State steps in

Under Trump, the federal government also has reduced its marketing efforts and assistance for people seeking to obtain insurance, and cut in half the enrollment period, which was originally three months.

However, Oregon stepped in last year to step up its efforts. Unlike most of the 30 states that rely on the federal website, Oregon runs its own marketing campaign and enrollment assistance — although it can do nothing about the shortened enrollment period.

"Here in Oregon we are doing everything we can to knock down barriers," Merkley said.

"We have given everyone the opportunity for affordable health care. But it doesn't happen unless people sign up."

Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace funds eight community groups and 34 insurance agents providing enrollment assistance. It also funds training for community groups.

Because of federal assistance for reinsurance, Oregon's five participating plans — most counties will have three — will see premium increases in the single digits, less than in other states.

Assistance is available for individuals with annual incomes of up to $48,560, and for families of four, up to $100,400.

"Don't let the price tags you see scare you," Smith said. "Most Oregonians are getting help paying for insurance. More people than you think are eligible for assistance."

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