5 Things We’re Watching – Oregon, January 2014

It has been the case for years that people in health care are busy.  That is still true.  But, even with the State of the Union ahead and the legislative session looming, there is a sense that the political storm of health reform is taking a breather.

So, for this issue, we spend more time on the non-political than the political.  From clinical exam rooms to an interview you won’t want to miss, here are “5 Things We’re Watching” in Oregon for January.

DJ Wilson - Host, State of Reform

1. What does Diane Lund think?

If you haven’t heard of her, you’re not paying attention.  Supporters and detractors will both tell you that, as the publisher of The Lund Report, she’s someone to keep an eye on.  “You never know what she’s going to write” is a refrain we hear often.

So, we sat down with her for an extended interview.  In this three part series, she tells us about her recent life threatening accident, about working in a kibbutz, and about her commitment to investigative journalism.

Whether you like her stuff or not, she’s one to watch in Oregon health care.

2. Transformation: nutritionists, home visits, social workers  

The OHA has released $27m in “transformation funds” to each of the 16 CCOs in the state, which is allowing a real diversity of strategies to flourish in the utilization of those funds.   The grants range from $1.25m to $4m depending on the size of the CCO.

The manner in which each CCO is using the funds reflects the local community’s needs.  But the idea that there will be multiple test cases to see which strategies are more effective is pretty exciting stuff – particularly in light of the already tremendous results from the first year of CCOs at work.


3. “I’ll trade you our CCO model for your exchange.”

A health system CEO said to me recently:  “Why don’t we just get Gov. Kitzhaber together with Gov. Inslee (Washington) and see if we can trade:  access to our know how on CCOs for their know how on the exchange.”

With some recent talk about moving Oregon to the federal exchange as a result of the technology problems at Cover Oregon, the idea of working with Washington’s exchange would seem a middle ground: effective and (relatively) local, while not duplicative of services.

When I asked Richard Onizuka, CEO of the Washington exchange whether he had picked up the phone to call Cover Oregon, he said “I have enough on my plate.” (jump to 21:44).  But, maybe that’s a call Cover Oregon makes?

4.  Now that it’s January, waiting rooms overflowing, but…

We’re hearing from primary care providers that their clinics are overflowing with patients.  But, not from a surge in newly insured from Medicaid expansion.

Rather, it appears it’s the flu season in Oregon that is filling waiting rooms, and appears to be as bad of a flu season in some parts of the state as any in recent memory.  The CDC’s data seems to support this.

If the stress on the primary care system is as extreme as some are saying as a result of the flu, it will be worth watching how well it handles the expected surge in patients from Medicaid expansion.

5.    “We’ve really upped our game…”   

You may have noticed:  we’ve put together a lot of original reporting on what’s happening in Oregon health care the last few months.  And, we’ve put together a solid team of reporters to make it happen.

Oregon coverage is led by  Amanda Waldroupe.  She has formerly written for The Oregonian, the Portland Business Journal, and The Lund Report.  We’re thrilled to have her.  She joins Amy Snow Landa, our new Managing Editor at State of Reform.  Amy comes to us from The Seattle Times, where she was one of the leading reporters on health reform there.

With new columnists – like Aaron Katz – joining Amy and Amanda, we’re putting together a strong team of analysts and reporters on health care in the Pacific Northwest.