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Oregon's Unique Approach to Health Care Celebrates Five Years

Coordinated Care Organizations provide health-care services to about 1 million Oregonians. (Alterfines/Pixabay)
Coordinated Care Organizations provide health-care services to about 1 million Oregonians. (Alterfines/Pixabay)
October 11, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. - Oregon's unique approach to bringing together health coverage for state residents is celebrating five years. Coordinated Care Organizations are the umbrellas to an array of services for people on the Oregon Health Plan, the state's version of Medicaid.

In the pre-CCO world, said Erin Fair Taylor, executive director of legal affairs at CareOregon, a group that provides health plan services to four of these organizations in the state, physical, mental and dental coverage were all separate and didn't work together.

"CCOs now have to really look across and think about what does a whole person's care look like and how can we coordinate that so it's easier to access and that members can have better outcomes," she said, "and hopefully, that we have cost savings as a result of reducing unnecessary care or unnecessary services."

There are 16 CCOs in the state, all working regionally to provide local care. They serve about 1 million Oregonians.

According to Fair Taylor, CCOs are required to come up with a community health improvement plan every three years. The organizations work with local schools, health departments and even the criminal justice system on these plans.

She said the close work with communities makes CCOs particularly adept to respond to such crises as the opioid epidemic or the housing crisis, because they get to hear from local people directly.

"Where are there overlaps?" she said CCOs can ask. "What's happening on the ground? Where are there opportunities for us to either better communicate or collaborate? And where are there opportunities for us to build additional infrastructure or really build together the things that could meaningfully impact the health of this particular community?"

Since CCOs were created and the Affordable Care Act was passed nationally, Oregon's uninsured rate has plummeted from 17 to 5 percent.

Fair Taylor said the biggest hurdle going forward will be the state's budget. As Oregon tightens its belt, CCOs have to as well. She said organizations will do that in part by promoting preventive-care services.

"If we can keep people healthy, that's much less expensive than paying for emergency-room visits or conditions that could otherwise have been prevented," she said. "So, that's where we're going first to manage our budget concerns."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR