On May 30, a federal program to provide affordable health insurance through joint employee, employer, and community resource contributions will expire in Wallowa, Union, and Baker counties.

The losers will be 48 residents from Wallowa County and 37 residents from Union County who are enrolled in the Community Health Alliance (CHA) that soon will die for lack of financial sustainability.

Lisa Ladendorff, executive director of Northeast Oregon Network (NEON) – a La Grande-based nonprofit selected to implement the CHA program here – said no enrollees were signed on in Baker County. Before any individuals joined the program from Baker County, it was known that a lack of funding would end the program.

Pepper McColgan, NEON’s network development coordinator, said NEON’s staff peaked at 14 persons and now is down to 4.25 FTE (full-time equivalency).

“Health insurance is terribly expensive,” said McColgan. She said the 85 CHA enrollees soon will return to the same uninsured status they endured prior to the brief CHA program here. Although NEON will try to secure health coverage for those 85, McColgan says, “The reality is there’s not that much available out there.”

Ladendorff said her program began signing up individuals for the CHA program in Union County in October 2010, and in Wallowa County during the spring of 2011.

Nationwide, variations of the CHA program have been successful for 10 years in 20 states, but a lack of sustainable funding forced the cancelation of a five-year grant for the NEON-administered program more than one year before the grant was scheduled to expire.

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