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Oregon Senate Approves Medical Coverage For Immigrant Children

The Oregon Senate voted Monday to extend health insurance coverage to children who are in the country illegally.

The $36 million dollar plan would enroll those children in the state's Medicaid program.

Opponents said the proposal rewards parents who bring their children to the U.S. without authorization. They also questioned the price tag.

"We had a crisis with our budget, but apparently that is over," said Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend. "Did we fund veterans the way we should have in this session? No, we have not. Have we funded seniors and disabled services in this budget the way we should? No, we have not."

But supporters argued that paying for routine medical care would be cheaper in the long run than forcing children to seek medical care at emergency rooms.

Senate Republican leader Ted Ferrioli of John Day supports the measure — but suspects constituents in his eastern Oregon district won’t. He said he expects to take a "shellacking" during town hall meetings over the issue.

"And I will look at folks with anger in their eyes, and they will not listen to the answer: That's it's less expensive and perhaps a better part of the conservative equation to do that which is right cheaper, than to essentially do that which is wrong, which is a lot more expensive," said Ferrioli.

The measure passed the Senate 21-8 and now heads to the Oregon House.

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Chris Lehman covers the Oregon state capitol for JPR as part of the Northwest News Network, a group of 12 Northwest public radio organizations which collaborate on regional news coverage. Chris graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He began his career producing arts features for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana and has been a reporter/announcer for NPR station WNIJ in DeKalb, Illinois. Chris has also reported from overseas, filing stories from Iraq, Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Northern Ireland, Zimbabwe and Uganda.