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National health care reform begins with local partnerships

A recent column by a nationally distributed writer in the Mail Tribune asserted that when it comes to inspired innovation, American health care has no "Steve Jobs." But we do. The state of Oregon is doing for health care what Steve Jobs did for personal computing, and the nation is watching.

By focusing on making care more affordable without reducing quality or access, Oregon is changing the way that health care is delivered and funding new ideas to meet this goal. The experiment began with the state's Medicaid insurance, the Oregon Health Plan. If it is successful, the policies will be considered nationally for adoption with Medicare and large governmental groups.

The beauty of the Oregon Health Plan innovation is its local approach to health care. The way it works: The state provides funds through local Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs). Then, the CCOs work with the community to plan out what we need locally to meet our goal. The innovative ideas come directly from our local health providers, support agencies and community members working together. And because the changes that are happening at the clinic and hospital level are not just for OHP members, the entire community benefits from improvements.

The board of directors of Jackson Care Connect, one of three CCOs in our area, includes Oregon Health Plan consumers and health care leaders from Addictions Recovery Center, Asante Health System, Community Health Center, La Clinica, Jackson County Health and Human Services, Medford Medical Clinic, OnTrack and Providence Medford Medical Center. We invited the community to submit projects last spring and the board members selected to fund those that addressed the greatest needs in our area. In some cases innovative social solutions removing barriers to care were needed to solve medical problems.

Here are the health partnership programs we are working on together. Many are funded collaboratively with others in the community.

  • Helping patients take charge of their health to reduce dependence on hospitals and emergency rooms
  • Community care workers provide one-on-one coordination of care for patients with frequent hospital and emergency-room visits.
  • Emergency room guides help to connect patients with primary care medical homes, so they can get the right care in the most appropriate setting.
  • Opioid prescribers group works to improve quality of life for people with complex chronic pain.
  • Comprehensive mental health services for children address extended care needs.
  • Regional health information exchange helps to reduce medical errors and duplicative tests.
  • Community health assessment to identify health needs and opportunities to work on together.

Early results indicate that we can make health care more affordable without reducing quality or access. And there is more good news. Beginning Jan. 1, the Oregon Heath Plan will be open to many more people in Jackson County. To learn how to sign up, go to any Department of Human Services office, many health clinics or www.coveroregon.com.

Inspired innovation is alive in Oregon.

Jennifer Lind, MPH, is the Jackson Care Connect regional executive. She is working at the forefront of health transformation in Oregon with leaders from local providers to integrate physical, behavioral and oral health for Medicaid beneficiaries.