Oregon Department of Human Services Director's Message
June 12, 2009 DHS Director's messages on the web
To: All DHS employees
From: Bruce Goldberg, M.D., director
A historic accomplishment in health care
"Whenever I hear, 'It can't be done,' I know I'm close to success."
This week brought a significant -- even historic -- change to the lives of Oregonians and to our department.

During a time of economic troubles and revenue shortfalls, the Governor and the Legislature have passed health care legislation that marks the most significant progress we've made to improve the health of Oregonians since the creation of the Oregon Health Plan 15 years ago.

Yesterday the Senate cast the final vote on a pair of bills that give every child in Oregon access to health insurance coverage, add 35,000 uninsured adults to the Oregon Health Plan Standard Program and ultimately make health care more affordable and accessible for everyone in the state.

At a time when more and more people are losing health care coverage and most states are cutting health care programs, Oregon will be ensuring that an additional 115,000 people will have insurance.

The Renfro family
The Renfro family.

Last April I wrote to you about the Renfro family and how a job loss made it impossible for parents Ron and Nicole to continue paying out of pocket for their daughter's expensive but necessary medication. Now families like this will not have to choose between prescriptions and food for their families -- they will get the help they need to protect their children.

Our plan to provide health care coverage for all kids in Oregon will be fully implemented in 2010. It will provide affordable coverage for all children through existing programs and systems. Children from families with the lowest incomes will be covered under the Oregon Health Plan. The plan also provides sliding fee subsidies for working parents whose children do not qualify for the health plan, so they can buy into an affordable private option for their kids.

The plan will be paid for by extending the provider tax on hospitals and a surcharge to insurance companies.

This is a smart investment not only for these families but all for the rest of the state. Today the medical care costs for the uninsured are being passed on to the 2 million Oregonians with insurance -- the new legislation will bring almost one billion dollars in federal support to help offset those costs. It will also help get preventive and primary care for individuals to keep them out of the expensive emergency room that we all pay for in our insurance premiums and medical bills. And approximately 3,600 new jobs will be created to meet the health care demand of newly insured. Doctor's offices, pharmacists and other businesses related to the health care sector will see an influx of new clients over the next two years.

The other important piece of health care legislation is House Bill 2009, which tackles head-on the high cost of health care, whether purchased by the state, by companies or by individuals.

This bill is the result of the Oregon Health Fund Board's work in communities around the state. The board heard loud and clear that Oregonians want a health care system that gives consumers the tools to make better health care decisions. They want to invest in cost-effective prevention and disease management. They want transparency and accountability from health care providers, insurance companies and hospitals. They are fed up with medical bills that look like hieroglyphics. And they want to make sure that the state system for purchasing health care is streamlined and cost-effective.

To do all that, HB 2009 creates the Oregon Health Authority. Among other things, this new structure consolidates and aligns the state's health care purchasing and programs and helps streamline state government to position us better to tackle health and human service issues. It will also mean some changes for us at DHS and many other state agencies. I will be writing more about that in the coming weeks and will keep you fully informed as together we work to implement this important and truly historic legislation.

As I have said before, health care coverage is both a moral and an economic imperative. But during a difficult legislative session with tough choices and painful service cuts, our state leaders stood up and met that imperative in a way that will make things better in Oregon now and in the future.

DHS on the web