Yesterday the Oregon Employment Department delivered some promising news. Oregon has seen five months of steady job growth and economists are saying that the state is in recovery mode from the long recession. Total recovery will take time, but this is a very good sign.
As a state, we have to do all we can to help spur growth in the family-wage job sector. Even as we see hopeful signs, we still have higher unemployment than most other states in the country.
One of the most important things we can do at OHA is make health care more affordable and accessible. That's exactly what we are doing with the Oregon health insurance exchange and the health system transformation.
Across our state, business owners say that they want to offer health care coverage but the costs are becoming increasingly prohibitive. Business owners like Rhonda Ealy and her husband Richard Steffensen.
"It's very important for us to offer employees health coverage," Rhonda says. "We employ people in all stages of life, including people with families. People need the health insurance they need -- when they need it."
But relentlessly rising health costs -- and insurance premiums -- threaten that commitment. What seemed like an affordable challenge five years ago is now prohibitively expensive.
The coffee shop found a plan in 2006 for full-time employees. It had a $1,000 deductible and cost $150 per month per worker. By this year, that plan was no longer available. They best they could find was one at double the premium cost and a $5,000 deductible. Business owners and employees everywhere in the state are facing the same problem.
Without a reining-in of health costs and a new insurance marketplace such as Oregon's proposed Health Insurance Exchange, she says, small businesses such as hers will be priced out of the market.
Helping people like Rhonda's employees and businesses like hers is one of the key drivers behind the work we do at the Health Authority. No one should be left out of care because of cost and everyone -- whether they work at the smallest of companies, the largest of corporations, or are self-employed -- should have access to quality, patient-centered care that is designed to keep them well and not just treat them when they are sick.
As our economy begins the slow path to recovery, we have to think ahead about how we will keep our economy strong. If Oregon can create a health insurance exchange that is truly of value to businesses -- helps them get tax credits they qualify for and lowers their administrative overhead -- we will go a long way toward creating the kind of competitive environment we need when every state in the country is vying for business.
Oregon has long been synonymous with innovation and a pioneering spirit. It's this spirit and our dedication to the work we have begun that will bring us to our goal of a health care system for better health, better care and lower cost.