Interview with Tina Edlund and Sean Kolmer | October 4, 2015

Whenever the words ‘cover’ and ‘Oregon’ start coming anywhere near each other in a sentence, most people are immediately reminded of a State run healthcare website that didn’t work, $250 million dollars that were lost, and an offering that eventually failed. But when I spoke to Tina Edlund and Sean Kolmer, who sat on the policy side of the debacle, to them it was a success.

In 2009 when the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) was first created, Edlund acted as the Chief of policy of the OHA. Then, in 2013, Edlund oversaw the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on the OHA. In 2014, when Governor Kitzhaber and his team (including Kolmer) decided to discontinue Cover Oregon and roll it into the Federal exchange, Edlund acted as the Transition Project Director.

For nine months, Edlund oversaw the project to destroy Cover Oregon – the website that she had been building for the last six months. When I asked her if she had any kind of remorse when Cover Oregon was being discontinued, she said not at all. To her it was the only thing to do.

“It was never about a website. It was always about the people who needed care,” Edlund said.

Edlund goes onto say “There [are] a million people getting Medicaid in this state. And they are all getting quality care.”

In fact, once the State transitioned to the Federal Exchange, OHA did end up enrolling roughly the initially expected amount.

“We are saving about two percentage points off of the growth trend in health care in this state. We are getting quality outcomes in the Medicaid program, we have set up a program of measurement looking at outcomes, and it’s all successful.” says Edlund.

But let’s not forget: Cover Oregon-the website aimed at enrolling the ACA for Oregonians which ended up never working-cost taxpayers $250 million dollars (and with nothing to show for it). But Edlund and Kolmer also remind us that Cover Oregon was one of the first of its kind. A majority of States opted to join the Federal exchange, while Kolmer and his team worked towards their own offering that would allow people to shop for insurance all in one transparent place.

So where is healthcare going? Kolmer and Edlund both agree: it’s up to us.
“The growth of the cost of health care ultimately erodes our ability to pay for [services] like education and public safety. While healthcare is important, we have to control the cost growth. So we need to look at doing things differently,” says Edlund.

Although Edlund does not know exactly what those things are, Kolmer tells us that the citizens are going to need to incite change.”People are going to begin to demand of Government or whoever is providing the care to be smarter in how they purchase health care because we are paying the bill.”

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