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More than 60 hear concerns at town hall

At a healthcare-focused town hall meeting Saturday, state representative Pam Marsh said she is optimistic that the disruptions that Jackson County Mental Health is facing will lead to a stronger system following a painful transition.

At an independently organized event largely focused on local impacts caused by the Affordable Care Act on Saturday, Marsh said conflicts arose as the county took on roles as both risk manager and healthcare provider in its relationship with coordinated care organization AllCare, whose contract with Jackson County Mental Health ends at the end of the month. 

"We have the potential to build a more comprehensive system," Marsh said. "But transition is hard."

Marsh said she has been in regular contact with the Oregon Health Authority, which will be monitoring cases during the transition. In a letter issued Friday, the Oregon Health Authority strongly encouraged AllCare and Jackson County Mental Health to extend their transition plan an additional 90 days, and said the state agency would be taking a supervisory role monitoring cases during the transition.

Former state representative Peter Buckley called the Jackson County's mental health program a "heroic effort," before lamenting at the way the partnership broke down.

More than 60 people concerned about changes to the Affordable Care Act attended the panel presentation at the Medford library Saturday evening, featuring Marsh, Buckley and Jim Crary, who challenged Oregon District 2 Rep. Greg Walden in 2016 and plans to run again.

Among those concerned was Tricia Metsker of Phoenix, an insulin-dependent diabetic and retired nurse who is several years away from qualifying for Medicaid.

"I see it from both practical experience as well as a human experience," Metsker said.

Even with insurance she says she pays about $400 a month, a figure she calls "exorbitant," for insulin and other supplies. Without insurance Metsker estimates her supplies would cost about $3,000 monthly.

Metsker said the ACA made her care affordable when she faced oral cancer a couple of years ago, saying that without it, "I would have a big hole in my mouth."

Changes at the federal level impact the state's Oregon Health Plan program, Marsh said. About half of the state's $1.7 billion is healthcare expenses, partially caused by eroding federal subsidies to the state's Medicaid program.

Initially the ACA covered 100 percent of Medicaid recipients below the poverty level. The state supplemented that to cover people up to 132 percent of the poverty level.

"Now they're giving us 95 percent," Marsh said, adding that the deficit adds up to about $400 million.

The other portion of the healthcare budget shortfall Marsh attributed to a greater-than-anticipated need from formerly uninsured just facing into real health problems.

—Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.