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We're No. 34!

Byline: The Register-Guard

If legislators needed additional motivation to improve Oregon's beleaguered health care system before they adjourn, they got some on Wednesday from the Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan health care research group based in New York.

The news wasn't good. In a detailed analysis of health system performance in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund ranked Oregon 34th overall. The report compiled data from various government agencies to compare state health care across five broad categories: access, quality, avoidable hospital use and costs, equity, and healthy lives.

The high proportion of Oregon children and adults who lack health insurance played a significant role in the state's poor showing in the Commonwealth Fund report. Oregon ranked near the bottom in health care equity (48th) and access to care (45th). In 2006, one in six Oregonians had no health insurance.

The high number of uninsured Oregonians directly affects the quality of health care in the state. Quality is reflected in measures such as the percentage of people who receive all recommended immunizations and all recommended preventive and chronic disease care. The Commonwealth Fund found that states with the lowest rates of uninsured residents tended to score highest on measures of preventive and chronic disease care, as well as other indicators of quality.

After all the numbers were crunched and analyzed, the study produced some eye-opening conclu- sions:

There is no systematic relationship between the cost of care and quality. Some states achieve high quality at lower costs.

If all states could approach the low levels of mortality from conditions amenable to care achieved by the top state, there would be nearly 90,000 fewer deaths each year of people younger than 75.

By matching levels achieved in the best-performing states, the nation could save billions of dollars a year by reducing preventable hospitalizations or readmissions. (Despite its low overall ranking, this was one area of outstanding performance for Oregon; the state finished second in the nation in reducing avoidable hospital use and costs.)

The Commonwealth Fund analysis came right out and said that universal coverage is one of the keys to improving health care in the United States: "(Universal coverage) is critical for improving quality and delivering cost-effective care, as well as ensuring access. Federal action as well as state initiatives will be essential for progress nationwide."

Oregon's bottom-tier ranking adds urgency to the health care reform debate that should be rising to the top of the Legislature's agenda. It also adds a tangible measure of shame to House Republicans' indefensible refusal to support Gov. Ted Kulongoski's Healthy Kids Plan, which would have provided health insurance to all of Oregon's 117,000 uninsured children.

Taking care of the medical needs of Oregon children isn't a partisan issue, and Kulongoski's decision to pay for the coverage with an 85-cent-per-pack increase in cigarette taxes made sense both from an economic and a public health perspective.

It will be interesting to watch House Republicans seek re-election with a voting record that opposes new taxes, no matter what they're for, and supports denying health insurance to children.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Oregon's health care ranks in the bottom tier
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 15, 2007
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