Last Monday about 1,000 of Oregon's top business and policy leaders gathered in Portland at the Oregon Business Summit to focus their joint efforts on addressing the challenges of boosting the state's economy and managing through the public-sector budget crisis.
Given these challenges, it's no surprise to me that one of the key topics at the summit was the high cost of health care and how it affects Oregon businesses.
Health care premium costs have increased 125 percent in the past 10 years, making it ever more difficult for employers to afford the cost of coverage. And for the public sector, health care costs are 16 percent of the state general fund budget and growing at an increasing rate.
Reducing costs and improving the value and quality of health care in Oregon has clearly become an economic imperative in our state. The Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Health Policy Board are at the center of the work to do just that.
Last Tuesday, the Health Policy Board approved a package of recommended legislative actions that will set up Oregon's Health Insurance Exchange, one of the key elements in our efforts to address health care cost and quality for businesses.
An exchange acts like an Expedia for health insurance, where people and small businesses can easily compare and buy high quality health insurance at competitive rates. We have been planning for an Oregon Insurance Exchange for the past several years. Now the federal Affordable Care Act will help make that happen. And to ensure that health insurance is affordable, individuals and families earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level (about $88,000 for a family of four) will have access to tax credits through the Exchange.
The Health Policy Board is recommending that we create an exchange that will make Oregon a national leader in addressing the issues of cost, red tape, and lack of choice that make health care an increasingly difficult issue for employers.
A successful exchange will be focused on making it easier for small businesses to compare health plans' costs and benefits and on reducing the administrative barriers that plague the system today.
Additionally, by being strategic with the plans offered through the exchange we can focus on high-quality, high-value plans that will help contain the rising cost of care.
The Oregon Business Summit dedicated an entire session to exchanges because they can be such a powerful means to help businesses, employees and consumers break out of the current cycle of high costs, confusion and uneven quality. Speaking at the panel was Health Policy Board member Dr. Joe Robertson, who is also the president of Oregon Health Sciences University. Dr. Robertson emphasized the way an exchange allows employees to keep health insurance coverage when changing jobs, an important advantage for today's increasingly mobile work force.
Today, more than 600,000 Oregonians are uninsured. Oregon's exchange will help us address that problem as well by being the means to insurance coverage for people and small businesses who haven't been able to afford it. As early as 2015, through the exchange, 277,000 people will have access to health insurance. This, combined with other reforms to the health care system, means that by 2019, approximately 93 percent of Oregonians will have insurance coverage.
As more uninsured Oregonians receive coverage, that helps mitigate the constant upward pressure on costs for us all by reducing the estimated 10 percent of our premiums we are all paying to care for the uninsured.
Through the work of the Oregon Health Policy Board and Oregon Health Authority, when it comes to health care coverage, Oregon will be a pace car state, leading the way for increasing value by lowering costs, improving quality and improving the health of our population.
In a competitive business market, that's exactly what we need to give Oregon an economic edge.