As I have said in these messages in the past, with every crisis, there comes an opportunity. In Oregon our budget shortfall, while difficult, is providing the spurs we have needed for decades to implement real change that will help Oregonians get the health care they need.
Here's the situation:
As you know, Oregon continues to face high unemployment while grappling with a $3.5 billion state budget shortfall. Meanwhile, we spend 16 percent of our general fund budget on health care. While federal funds allowed us to continue Medicaid coverage through the early days of the recession, additional dollars will not be there in the next budget.
Additionally, we continue to have a very high rate of families without health insurance coverage. Small businesses that may want to provide coverage have not been able to afford the skyrocketing premiums. For those of us who have insurance, it can be very difficult to determine which plan is the best and to ensure that we will be covered for the care we need when we need it.
And even as health care costs overwhelm state, business and family budgets, the quality of our care is uneven. And we have a payment system that rewards more care instead of ensuring we are healthier and the care we receive is effective and of high value.
But you know that story. So here's the opportunity:
Given these realities, it is essential we do everything we can to ensure that our health care system works for each and every Oregonian. Last month the Oregon Health Policy Board sent the Legislature the "Action Plan for Health," which lays out a clear plan for better health, better quality and lower costs in Oregon.
The Action Plan was built on the recommendations of thousands of Oregonians over the past several years. In 2010 alone, the Board and the Oregon Health Authority were advised by more than 1,100 people, including individuals, small business owners, health care and public health advocates, providers, and representatives from state and local governments. These individuals served on task forces, attended meetings across the state and developed solutions to guide Oregon's work on health reform.
One of the key recommendations is to make it easier for people to get quality, affordable health insurance through an Oregon Health Insurance Exchange. The Exchange is a central market place for private health insurance that provides a means for small businesses and individuals to take advantage of tax credits to make insurance more affordable. Through the exchange, we will for the first time be able to compare benefits, including the cost and quality for health plans. In order to have access to exchange customers, insurance companies will have to meet minimum standards for quality and share with the public where they fall in meeting those standards.
That's just one of several recommendations from the Board and you'll be hearing more about the Action Plan soon. To read the complete Oregon Action Plan for Health, go to www.oregon.gov/OHA/action-plan.
In addition, this week Governor Kitzhaber called on the Health Policy Board to focus on the Oregon Health Plan and present a plan to better coordinate all benefits for our Medicaid clients -- including physical health, mental health and addiction services, oral health, long-term care and social support services -- through more integrated care. In short, we need to redesign how we deliver care not just within Medicaid, but throughout Oregon.
This is the Oregon way to better health, better quality and lower costs.
While the current budget situation means there are many tough choices ahead, I am heartened by the work that is happening to turn things around in Oregon. We are on the path to get the care we need and the health we deserve at a cost we can afford.