This February is an especially busy time for the Oregon Health Authority. The legislative session is in full swing, even as our agency, our partners and stakeholders continue the critical work of transforming Oregon's health system. We are all busy building the foundation for a better future for our state, but I wanted to pause for a moment and look at the possibilities that begin in 2014.
Recently at the Oregon Health Policy Board we reviewed an analysis that showed 95 percent of Oregonians could have health care coverage by 2016. The growth in coverage would come through expanded Medicaid eligibility and through more people coming into coverage in the private market beginning in 2014.
This will be a profoundly life-changing experience, and not only for the families who will have coverage for the first time. Researchers have been following adults who gained one of the few spots available over the past few years for the Oregon Health Plan. They found that once people have insurance they are more likely to describe their health as good and are better both physically and mentally. They avoid preventable situations such as losing a toe to diabetes or being hospitalized for mental health issues. They are also more financially stable – the study found that the newly insured were 25 percent less likely to be in collections due to an unpaid medical bill and 40 percent less likely to borrow money or skip paying other bills due to health care debt.
It will also be good for Oregon businesses. Not only will they see fewer medical bankruptcies, debts, and unpaid bills, but they will also benefit from fewer costs being shifted onto them for care rendered to the uninsured. One recent national study estimated that private insurance premiums are as much as 1.7 percent higher because of the cost of treating the uninsured. Other studies have found even greater cost shifting from the uninsured to commercial insurance premiums.
And this change will also affect our local communities.
Today local safety nets often have to scramble to find physical, mental, and oral health care for people without insurance. It's a patchwork system that cannot adequately address the need. As a result, many fall through the cracks. They have to rely on hospital emergency departments rather than preventive or primary care, thus spending the greatest amount of money on the least efficient type of care.
Oregon is better positioned than other states for this change because of our coordinated care model. New people coming into Medicaid will be served by a more effective and efficient health care system.
When we started doing this work, the national health insurance reforms that will begin in 2014 were a far horizon. Now that horizon is closer and we can see it more clearly. From where I stand, it looks great.