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Editorial: Oregon health care experiment begins today
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Editorial: Oregon health care experiment begins today

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Mark the day: Today, Aug. 1, is the first day of Oregon’s grand experiment in delivering health care through so-called coordinated care organizations.

It could be a fabulous success, providing better care more efficiently to participants in the Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid patients).

It could be a failure, the victim of too much haste in its preparation and too many questions left unanswered as Oregon lawmakers and Gov. John Kitzhaber banked on savings from CCOs to plug a big state budget hole.

Our hunch is that the result will fall somewhere in between those poles — and we’re optimistic that when it’s said and done, this experiment will prove to be a qualified success. And, maybe more important, we’ll have learned something important from that “qualified” part.

We also may discover that we’ve taken a significant step or two toward building a single-payer health care system for Oregon.

At least one thing is reasonably certain: Most Oregon Health Plan patients likely won’t notice a huge difference — if any difference at all — today. For example, benefits will not change. But organizers of the InterCommunity Health Network CCO, the entity that will serve Benton, Linn and Lincoln counties, say that patients should start noticing better coordination between their various providers soon.

A coordinated care organization is roughly defined as a network of all types of health care providers, working together to serve patients. In Oregon’s case, the organizations will focus first on people who receive coverage under the Oregon Health Plan.

The idea is that the organizations will be able to offer a better level of care by using the so-called “medical home” model, in which a number of providers try to focus on the whole patient and not necessarily just on a specific ailment.

So one big goal, in essence, is to focus more on wellness and to find long-term ways of better dealing with chronic illness. Another big goal is to deal with ailments before they force patients to seek care in emergency rooms — the most costly level of care.

The community care organizations each get a fixed budget — and wide leeway in determining how they spend the money.

The hope is that this gives each organization wide latitude to tinker and innovate. The idea is to create, in essence, smaller laboratories where new ideas can get a tryout before they go statewide or even nationwide.

One of the important things to remember over the next couple of years is that we’re likely to learn just as much, if not more, from the ideas that don’t pan out as from the clear-cut successes.

And if we end up with a handful of ideas that help to point the way out of our current health care morass, then Oregon’s latest experiment will be a spectacular success.

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