An OSU anthropology research team has discovered that language barriers, immigration status, and lack of knowledge about the system keep many Oregonians from health care.

Sunil Khanna
Sunil Khanna

A new study by Oregon State University researchers suggests that language barriers, immigration status, and a lack of knowledge about how “the system works” prevents many uninsured Oregonians from gaining access to the Oregon Health Plan.

As a result, says OSU anthropologist Sunil Khanna, ethnic minority populations may be adversely affected.

“Many Hispanic groups in particular are perpetually uninsured,” he said. “They don’t learn about the Oregon Health Plan by reading the formal literature, or visiting the Website. They may not be able to read, or they may not have access to a computer. So they learn about the health plan informally, through friends and family, and that word-of-mouth information tends to be colored by experiences that aren’t necessarily positive.”

Khanna and a group of OSU students conducted a series of interviews from rural eastern Oregon, to Multnomah County, to coastal fishing communities. What they discovered was that many uninsured Oregonians didn’t know they qualified for the Oregon Health Plan, others couldn’t understand enrollment procedures, and still others were turned down because no physician would accept them as patients due to low reimbursement levels.

“There is an unwritten feeling among many working in the health care arena that uninsured people don’t care about their health,” Khanna said. “Instead, what we found was that this group is very, very concerned about health –not just for themselves, but for their families.”

The problems of uninsured and underinsured Oregonians are found throughout the state, Khanna said. Rural areas may have a higher number of uninsured people, in part because of the migrant worker influence, higher rates of unemployment, seasonal jobs, and fewer providers who will accept Oregon Health Plan patients. Urban areas are more likely to have safety-net clinics and there are more providers from which to choose.

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