|Health care reform has been a long time coming in our country, but I believe the nation is finally getting serious about addressing the real problems: health care costs too much and it is not distributed equitably.
The discussions in Washington, D.C., about improving our health care system and the health of Americans are a backdrop to the leaps ahead Oregon has made during the 2009 legislative session.
First, we finally accomplished the goal of providing health care for all children in our state under Oregon Healthy Kids. This is a phenomenal achievement, especially in light of these difficult budget times. No state in the country did more to keep their kids healthy. Having access to this coverage will be a huge relief for Oregon families. For the first time they will have the ability -- just like the rest of us -- to take their little ones to the doctor and get them checked out without worrying that they can't afford the doctor visit.
Second, the adults who will be covered under the Oregon Health Plan standard program will more than double, which means more people will get the care they need before they end up in an emergency room. More people will avoid medical debt bankruptcy and more families will be kept stable.
These gains in health care coverage were made possible by innovative funding strategies that leverage fees paid by hospitals and insurance companies to bring in $1.7 billion of federal funds to Oregon over the next four years. That is money we have never brought into the state before and it will create its own economic stimulus -- 3,600 new jobs in the health care and supporting sectors.
The third leap forward is the creation of the Oregon Health Authority.
The legislation that created the Authority is based upon the work of the Oregon Health Fund Board that was completed after a series of community meetings throughout Oregon last year.
During those meetings, Oregonians made it clear that their families and businesses are struggling under the weight of rising health care costs and, for many, an inability to get the care they need. That is not surprising considering health care premiums in Oregon have risen nearly five times faster than wages in just eight years.
Oregonians want primary care, preventive care and strong public health services. They want to put health care back into the hands of doctors so they can work with patients to make the right treatment decisions that benefit people, not insurance companies.
They also want their government to be creative, think long term, and be more of a watchdog over the health care industry.
In other words, there is no time to waste to give everyone access to quality, affordable health care. And all of us here at DHS are going to be a part of how that happens in one way or another through the Oregon Health Authority.
There will be a two-year phase-in for the Health Authority. It will mean some changes at DHS. Ultimately, three divisions of DHS will fall under the Health Authority -- Division of Medical Assistance Programs, Public Health, and Addictions and Mental Health, along with the Office of Private Health Partnerships, the high-risk insurance pool (OMIP), and Public Employees' Benefit Board. Our other divisions -- Children, Adults and Families, and Seniors and People with Disabilities -- will not. That does not mean, however, that the divisions will not continue to work together, be housed together, and share services as they do today -- and in new and better ways.
I think this is a very exciting time. If you look back, we don't deliver health and human services the same way we did 20 years ago -- and we're going to deliver them differently 20 years in the future. We have to always be able to change and adapt and innovate. At DHS we are positioned to be at the center of the statewide -- and national -- health care reform that is going to set the agenda for decades to come.