Kitzhaber Administration takes action on health care costs

At the direction of Gov. Kitzhaber, the Oregon Health Policy Board has adopted an OSPIRG-backed proposal to take steps toward cutting the waste out of our health care system, estimated to make up as much as 1/3 of every dollar we spend on care.

The new policies announced yesterday will require insurance companies—when they seek permission for premium increases—to first quantify their progress towards holding down costs and boosting preventive care that keeps their customers healthy in the first place. By holding insurers accountable for this progress through considering key health outcome measures as part of Oregon’s health insurance rate review process, consumers will have a new tool to push insurers to keep down costs and deliver high-quality health care.

This step came after Oregonians from across the state called on Gov. Kitzhaber’s Administration to take action to hold health insurance companies accountable to cut waste and keep down costs in a citizen petition delivered by OSPIRG on October 1. The petition, signed by over 25,000 Oregonians, called for administrative action to strengthen Oregon’s health insurance rate review program, and highlighted the urgency and breadth of public support for action to address the rising cost of health insurance and its impact on families and small businesses across Oregon.

OSPIRG Foundation research has shown that the measures Oregon has taken in the past few years to scrutinize health insurance rates have seen some success, cutting over $155 million in waste and unjustified costs out of premiums since 2010. The research also showed that opportunities remain to use Oregon's health insurance rate review process to create greater transparency and push insurers to cut waste and focus on prevention. Over the past year, through a joint public education project with the OSPIRG Foundation, OSPIRG citizen outreach staff talked to tens of thousands of Oregonians across the state to raise awareness and build support for taking action.

In addition to heightened scrutiny for health insurance rate hikes, the new proposals include measures to make health care costs and the quality of care more transparent and available to the public, as well as a new initiative to explore strategies to bring health care cost growth down to a rate that will be sustainable for the long term. We applaud these promising initiatives, but we know that with health care, the devil is in the details—and while Oregonians need relief from rising health care costs right away, the details have yet to be ironed out.

We are encouraged by the steps Oregon has taken, but the work is far from over. We will continue working hard to make sure that state policymakers deliver meaningful results for Oregonians struggling with the high cost of health care.

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