Will COVID-19 change how Oregon approaches Health Policy?

For years, health care reform has been a major platform for many candidates running for public office, as well as a key legislative priority for many Oregon legislators. Whether it’s decreasing the prices of pharmaceutical drugs, increasing the number of insured Oregonians, or ensuring underrepresented communities receive the care that they need, we have been fighting for some time to address these issues within our health systems.

As the novel coronavirus spreads through our communities, it has exposed weaknesses in our health delivery system, as well as the structures that govern those systems. It has also shown how Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs) are able to deploy resources quickly to provide basic resources and keep people out of the hospital.

Indeed, one of the most important lessons we will learn from this pandemic is that our health care system was not fully equipped to handle it. How do we create a system that is able to respond more cohesively and comprehensively in a crisis?

One of the first steps taken during this pandemic was the collaboration of publicly owned hospitals and health systems with those that are privately owned. In every major health industry, public and private businesses and health care providers are coming together to ensure that we decrease the effects of this crisis. In the pharmaceutical industry, corporations and public health entities are working together to find a vaccine or therapy for the virus. Hospitals are coordinating so that public hospitals can discharge patients from their emergency department (ED) for care at private hospitals that may have more capacity. Will this willingness and ability to collaborate make these groups more inclined to compromise on health care transformation?

Another step that was quickly taken by officials was to increase access to telemedicine, by decreasing the barriers to this care. By relaxing rules around privacy (known as HIPAA laws), providers of all types may utilize FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Skype. Not only were restrictions removed in many states including Oregon, providers will now be reimbursed at the same rate as providers seeing patients in person. Before this move, telemedicine was not something widely utilized in Oregon.

With the uptick in Oregonians projected to utilize OHP and our state’s CCOs rising to the challenge, will more legislators be interested in utilizing OHP at a higher rate, or expanding the coordinated care system? Oregon has never shied away from having the universal health care conversation, but what’s always been missing is how exactly we will achieve that goal. Will some of the changes made during this pandemic answer questions our legislators have previously had about how to deliver universal coverage for all?

We don’t know if any of these changes will stick, but we do know that Oregon’s CCOs have been leading the way in deploying resources to their communities in an unprecedented fashion, allowing them to serve their communities at a much faster rate.