Today in a speech to the Portland City Club, Governor Kitzhaber clearly laid out the challenge before us:
"Health care is now the single fastest-growing cost for state government -- both in fulfilling our responsibility to provide health care for our low income and vulnerable citizens through the Oregon Health Plan; but also in our capacity as a large employer," said the Governor.
The Governor also said that until we deal with the rising costs of health care, our ability to fund education and other important services will be compromised.
And let's be clear: There are a lot of good things in our health care system -- great treatment, phenomenal cures and extraordinary care. And there are also great opportunities to improve care and lower costs in the health care system by focusing on key issues: better coordination of care across a complex system, more primary and preventive care, and a focus on preventing illness before it occurs and then treating it effectively when it does.
The budget situation means we must act now. That's why the Health System Transformation Team has a tight timeline to deliver a plan to the Governor by the beginning of April that identifies changes we can make now to improve care and lower costs.
Last Wednesday night, the team heard presentations by some Oregon health innovators who are already doing just that, providing examples that we can build on in the rest of the state.
A team from Trillium Community Health Plans in Lane County spoke about how they are resurrecting an old fashioned idea: house calls or home health visits by medical professionals to help seniors and people with disabilities stay healthier and at home longer.
Presenters from Central Oregon spoke about several innovations including how the local health care system has teamed up with state and local agencies on a pilot project for 50 Medicaid clients with the most serious medical needs. A team of people -- including a nurse, a doctor and a caseworker -- focused on person-centered health management. The results were amazing and far better then even the team expected: for these 50 people they reduced emergency room visits by more than 30 percent for an estimated annual savings of more than $900,000.
We also heard from Jeff Heatherington, the CEO of FamilyCare Inc., about the outcomes of FamilyCare's work to improve the connection between physical and mental health care.
These are just some of the great examples of work in Oregon and I know there are many more. You can see the presentations and other materials from the team's weekly meetings on the Transformation Team's website.
These examples are important because it is no longer acceptable to allow unnecessary health care costs to eat up precious dollars that should be going to our kids, to our most vulnerable, and to other services.
The challenges ahead are large and the timelines are short. But I am encouraged by the work already happening in our state that we are going to move forward and find a better path to health in Oregon.