by: JAIME VALDEZ - State Sen. Mark Hass and Gov. John Kitzhaber listen as Alice Bartelt from the League of Women Voters poses a question from the audience during a health care discussion Tuesday night at Beaverton High School. The main problem with the United State’s $2.8 trillion health care system, says Gov. John Kitzhaber, is that so little of it pertains to keeping people healthy.

“A lot of money is being spent in the system that’s not being used for health,” the physician-turned-governor said Tuesday evening in the Beaverton High School Auditorium. “We have a system in which all the incentives are based on acute care with very little money spent on prevention. Of that $2.8 trillion, most of it goes to take care of people getting sick. We need to invest those dollars to help people be healthy.”

The governor spoke to a moderate-sized but attentive audience who gathered for a Town Hall meeting hosted by Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton. Focused primarily on changes to the state and federal health care and insurance coverage systems, the state leaders also touched on issues from tax reform to education funding during the hour-long exchange as they responded to audience members’ submitted questions.

Throughout the engagement, Kitzhaber, a Democrat, promoted Oregon’s fledgling Coordinated Care Organization model, in which a network of various health care providers join forces to focus on the individual needs of the 600,000 patients in the Oregon Health Plan. The system aims to streamline and eliminate fragmented treatment approaches for patients who require care involving different health care branches such as physical, mental and therapeutic.

With initial federal funding of $620 million and $1.9 billion over the next five years, the state’s first Coordinated Care Organizations rolled out Aug. 1. Five more are being introduced this month with the goal of 13 organizations serving 33 counties and 500,000 adults and children in the Oregon Health Plan, according to literature from the Oregon Health Authority.

Kitzhaber said he sees the coordinated care approach providing a model for the rest of the country while ultimately saving dollars that could be channeled to other needs.

“I believe this can save literally billions of dollars,” he said. “The federal government gave us $1.9 billion, and they stand to save a total of about $10 billion. That’s a pretty good return on an investment. In Oregon, I hope that can be reinvested in things like education.”

The online health care forum recently named Kitzhaber No. 3 in its list of the 100 most influential people in health care for 2012, coming in behind Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Aetna Chief Executive Officer Mark Bertolini but ahead of President Obama.

To illustrate the plan’s focus, Kitzhaber spoke hypothetically of an elderly woman with congestive heart failure who lives in a small apartment with no air conditioning during a summer heat wave. If unchecked 100-degree temperatures aggravate her condition and send her to the emergency room, that’s a hefty tab compared to the $200 that could have — through supervision of a coordinated care team — been spent on an air conditioner.

With an emphasis on wellness and preventive care, the governor said he sees “no contradiction between lowering the cost of Medicare and improving the lives of senior citizens.”

“I’m pretty excited about this,” he JAIME VALDEZ - A small crowd attended a Town Hall meeting with Gov. John Kitzhaber and state Sen. Mark Hass on Tuesday night.

Speaking at Beaverton High School on the first day of the 2012-13 school year — one in which $37 million was slashed from the Beaverton School District budget — Kitzhaber and Hass spoke of the need for a better funding model for public education. The governor said additional resources through health care savings could facilitate crucial changes including reduced class sizes and more elective and vocational-oriented classes.

“I also think we need to have a public finance debate again,” Kitzhaber said. “It’s absolutely critical. There is nothing more important in this state than (to) adequately fund education.”

The Legislature, he noted, may examine expanding the amount of public-funding bonds the state can sell.

“The federal government needs to be a much bigger player at the end of the day,” he said, noting that about 3 percent of the budget goes to states for education.

In response to a question about campaign finance reform and the possibility of overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which supported the ability of corporations and unions to donate to political campaigns.

“There’s probably not a lot the Oregon Legislature can do,” Hass said, noting a change in the Oregon Constitution would involve “heavy lifting” to ensure we “don’t have our own mini-Citizens United here.”

After the forum, Donna Parsons, a resident of unincorporated Washington County, said she agreed with Kitzhaber and Hass that money is being spent on the wrong end of the health care spectrum.

“The most encouraging thing here in Oregon is the (emphasis) on preventive aspects rather than the professional health care (industry),” she said.

Admitting she feels the current health care coverage system in the U.S. is in need of reform, Beaverton resident Joan Jarvis said she was impressed with the governor’s approach.

“I liked the way he goes about explaining what he thinks is a good plan and how he works with people,” she said, admitting she’s in the Baby Boomer demographic that will be greatly affected by health care changes. “From what I learned here tonight, I think he is looking at it very realistically and honestly.”

For more information on the Coordinated Care Organization concept, visit JAIME VALDEZ - Gov. John Kitzhaber explains his health care plan to a small crowd in the Beaverton High School Auditorium.

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