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Early data positive for Oregon health experiment

Nov 6, 2013

Of the Associated Press

SALEM — Oregon Health Plan members are making fewer visits to the emergency room and more visits to primary care providers, according to state data released Wednesday.

Per-person spending growth fell by 1 percentage point.

The numbers suggest Oregon's year-old coordinated care organizations may be having some success at improving preventive care while lowering long-term costs for the Oregon Health Plan, the state's version of Medicaid.

In exchange for nearly $2 billion from the federal government, Oregon promised that coordinated care organizations would reduce the growth in Medicaid spending without skimping on care.

Gov. John Kitzhaber has long argued that spending more on preventive care, properly managing chronic conditions and moving away from paying doctors for each service they perform could avoid expensive hospital stays and save money in the long run.

He's trying to convince other states to adopt similar reforms, and the numbers, if they hold, could help him make his case.

“As we open up health care to more Oregonians, this model is showing early promise of innovation that can spread across the health care system,” Kitzhaber said in a statement.

From January to June, the rate of emergency room visits decreased by 9 percent and hospitalizations for congestive heart failure dropped 29 percent compared with 2011. Visits to a primary care provider were up 18 percent.

The data covers just six months and no numbers are available yet for many of the key health measures that Oregon must meet to comply with the federal contract, so long-term results may be less rosy.

And not ever metric was positive. Preventive dental visits fell slightly, and there was virtually no change in the percentage of children who had follow-up care within 30 days of being prescribed medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

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