HEALTH CARE ACCESS AND AFFORDABILITY

I believe health care is a place where government needs to show up for people when they really need it. As a state lawmaker, I supported funding to expand health care services to Oregonians in need. As Oregon’s independent governor, my guiding principles in health care policy will be access, affordability, quality, innovation, and transparency. I will surround myself with diverse, smart health care minds from both the public and private sectors. People with practical health care experience as well as policy experts. I will lead on health care with the best ideas from both parties. Democrats are right that health care should be accessible and affordable. Republicans are also right that we must protect the role of the private sector in delivering care to ensure innovation, efficiency, and the unique relationship between providers and patients. I believe providing health care to those in need should be a collaborative partnership between government and the private sector. I do not support a government take-over of the health care system – from insurance to doctors or hospitals.

The pandemic strained our health care system and it remains fragile. As we emerge from this unprecedented crisis, we should consider many policies at the same time. My first goal will be greater emphasis on polices and incentives to keep people healthy and out of expensive emergency rooms. Programs that include mental health and addiction treatment, chronic disease management, and better nutrition, for example, are more affordable than hospital care. We also need to encourage more young people to choose health care as a career. Our health care system cannot survive without a qualified, sustainable workforce, and that workforce has withered away over the last two years. We can help this dire workforce shortage by offering tuition assistance and better vocational training.

We must not let the ravages of inflation and economic circumstances penalize people who need health care and cannot afford receiving it. If we allow people to fall through the cracks, the state will only be paying more for other community services to address their future needs. We need to renew our federal waiver to be able to use federal funds to support creative programs to serve those in poverty. We also must address the cost of health care overall. Former Gov. John Kitzhaber, M.D. is leading an independent task force to propose legislation for 2023 for specific solutions to rising health care costs. I welcome partnering with him and other public and private health care leaders to shore up our services for low-income residents and making sure health care is affordable for all Oregonians.

No one should be denied access to quality health care based on race or income. Unfortunately, our problems with access and affordability have been exacerbated by the political, government, and health care leaders who squandered public trust and credibility during the pandemic. Ever-changing rules, excessive mandates, and policies appeared to be based as much on political science as actual science.

State government needs to be an effective partner with private health care systems. The state needs to be more consistent, reliable, and accountable. We need to have the courage to collect the necessary data and evaluate outcomes from an equitable perspective. Specifically, we need stronger leadership from the Oregon Health Authority to coordinate these efforts, while still allowing local, regional programs to be flexible and creative to serve their own communities. Right now, at best we are inadequately responsive to equity concerns. We need to build an actual plan and drive it by bringing public and private health systems together to execute a common vision.