As the legislative session moves forward, I will be using this space for an update of key developments and activities. This week there were several events that highlight the importance of the work we are doing in Oregon and the challenges ahead.
Wednesday evening two special guests attended the Health System Transformation Team meeting: Governor Kitzhaber and Donald Berwick, M.D., the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
Governor Kitzhaber emphasized the fiscal reality we are facing. He urged the members of the Transformation Team to step outside of the status quo of the current health delivery system for Medicaid clients in the plan they will be delivering to him in April.
Dr. Berwick, speaking by teleconference, offered enthusiastic support for the work Oregon is doing to focus on better care, better health and lower costs. You can see the entirety of his remarks on the Health System Transformation Team's website. He emphasized how the current health care system drives costs up without improving health, particularly for our clients who suffer from chronic diseases.
"They're absorbing a tremendous amount of the resource and they're not getting value for it," Dr. Berwick said. "Their health care is nothing like what it could be. Their condition is impeded rather than assisted by the health care system, largely because of fragmentation. So they end up coming back and forth into the hospital when they could stay at home. They get worse when they don't need to get worse with their chronic illness. They are not given resources to control their own health."
A coordinated and patient-centered system is the key to improving health and lowering costs, said Dr. Berwick, and he called Oregon a leader for the country in bringing together stakeholders for real transformation.
"Your work is phenomenally important and I just see Oregon as a beacon," he said.
This week also marked the first public hearing for Senate Bill 99, the health insurance exchange bill. Among the people testifying were small business owners who see the exchange as a means for them to provide affordable health benefits to their employees.
Small business owners testified that Oregon's Health Insurance Exchange will allow them to offer a wide range of choices to their employees, rather than a narrow selection of health care plans. Small business owners said they saw the benefit in providing more options, available through the exchange, in hiring and retaining good employees. Additionally, Oregon's exchange will reduce the administrative burden on small businesses by streamlining the administration of employee health insurance.
We also received word this week that Oregon is one of seven states awarded a grant to set up the IT systems for an exchange that truly serves Oregon's needs and allows us to innovate at the local level.
This is an important part of our efforts to transform our health care system. At the same time we will be creating a prototype that could be used by other states. As with all federal grants, the Exchange Early Information Technology Innovation Grant will go through legislative approval.
I want to thank all of the staff who worked this week on these and other issues with the Legislature, Health System Transformation Team, our clients and stakeholders. While the budget reality does bring great tests, I see that in every part of the Health Authority we are bringing new thinking to our work to create a health and health care system that will truly bring better care, better health, and lower costs to Oregon.