Thousands of Oregonians have been dialing a toll-free number in hopes of winning a spot in the Oregon Health Plan.
The state Department of Human Services recently announced it would offer new enrollment opportunities for uninsured people by allowing them to put their names on a reservation list for possible coverage.
On Monday, the agency's 60-line call center began taking calls from people wanting to add their names. Some 3,000 people called that morning.
"People generally want to know how soon they can get on the list and how soon they can get coverage," Sarah Ottoson, a staffer at the call center, told the Statesman Journal newspaper.
The center will be manned from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, through Feb. 29. In March, a computer will start randomly drawing names from the reservation list.
People whose names are drawn will then be mailed an application to apply for the OHP standard plan.
Monthly drawings will add 2,000 Oregonians each month to the plan. The drawings will last for almost a year.
Adults 19 to 65 who do not qualify for Medicaid and earn incomes less than the federal poverty level are eligible to apply. Receiving an application does not guarantee acceptance.
The Oregon Health Plan was created in the mid-1990s as a reform to expand Medicaid to the working poor.
At its peak, the plan served 132,000 poor adults. But with rising costs and a tight state budget, enrollment was scaled back in 2000 and now sits at 19,000.
Most people accepted into the plan will have to pay a monthly premium that can range from $9 to $20 per person.
With hundreds of thousands of Oregonians lacking insurance, Department of Human Services officials expect a lot of interest in this health care lottery.
"People without health insurance coverage are sicker and die sooner than those who are able to access health care every day," said Dr. Bruce Goldberg, the agency director. "This is really a tragedy. It's a stain on our community in general."
Oregonians vie for spot in health plan