Kitzhaber Heralded as Healthcare Leader

As he left office, the governor was lauded by hospital executives, health insurance leaders, physicians and community activists for transforming Oregon’s healthcare system.

Governor John Kitzhaber is being remembered as a bipartisan leader who improved the lives of Oregonians by transforming the state’s healthcare delivery system. To compile this story, The Lund Report reached out to healthcare executives and community activists from across the state. Only one health insurance CEO politely declined to comment – Mark Ganz, president of Cambia Health Solutions, which runs Regence BlueCross BlueShield -- according to Jared Ishkanian, his strategic communications official, who didn’t offer an explanation.

Here’s what healthcare leaders had to say about the departing governor.

“While much of the focus of Governor Kitzhaber's work has been on the prioritized list and rational approach to healthcare in the original Oregon Health Plan legislation and healthcare transformation in the CCO era, I think the vision and lasting impact of his legacy will be based on his emphasis on the partnership, inclusion and community collaboration that have driven innovation under his leadership,” said Ken Provencher, CEO Of PacificSource Health Plans. “Other states have relied on a vendor approach to Medicaid that has relied solely on a competitive bid process, focused on cost and resulting in limited provider participation. As a result of Governor Kitzhaber's approach, we have a locally-focused Medicaid program that is characterized by broad-based participation of almost all providers, significant access to care, an inclusive community-based collaborative approach and a commitment to results.”

From the desk of Andy Davidson, president and CEO Of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, “Governor John Kitzhaber committed his life to improving the health of Oregonians. His work with the 62 community hospitals around the state—large and small—showed that he understood the unique needs of the communities they served. Our hospitals could count on Governor Kitzhaber as an active listener, an engaged policy-maker, and a devoted public servant. He understood the healthcare system from the inside out, and understood the need for government and healthcare providers to constantly work together to serve the people of the state. As we transition to a new leader in Kate Brown, we look forward to building the same proactive relationship with her and her administration. The challenges that we face as a healthcare system in Oregon are complex, and we will need a steady partner to continue us down the path of health care transformation.”

Under the tutelage of Kitzhaber, the Archimedes Movement was born in 2006, led by Liz Baxter, now the CEO Of the Oregon Public Health Institute. She told The Lund Report that the governor “always imagined what was possible if we worked in concert, leaving our individual interests to the side. And when he imagined those possibilities, he could bring the rest of us to see his vision, and begin working to make it a reality. I can only hope that we remember that his vision has propelled health reform forward in Oregon, and it was accelerated because of his leadership, but also because people across the state did the work to refine and evolve policies and practices. There is no going backwards from where we are today. I, for one, am grateful for his visionary leadership and passion for this state and its people.”

Oregon lost a healthcare champion with Kitzhaber’s resignation, said Ben Hoyne, executive director of CCO Oregon. “The legacy he created in bringing healthcare to more Oregonians in better, more affordable ways, will continue to burn bright. We look forward to working with Governor Brown as we all continue to strengthen the healthcare system in Oregon."

From the coordinated care world, Kitzhaber will long be remembered for “guiding us through the Oregon Health Plan and integrating all health services,” said Jeff Heatherington, president and CEO of FamilyCare. “That contribution can’t be underestimated because it’s saved the state billions of dollars, and has provided healthcare access to hundreds of thousands of people within the Medicaid program.”

Heatherington doesn’t foresee any change in health policy direction under Governor Kate Brown’s leadership. “She’s of the same mind set as Kitzhaber with regard to healthcare for everyone, and I expect her to be very supportive of our current effort.”

The fact that Kitzhaber handled healthcare innovation in a very bipartisan manner is a testament to his success as governor, Jan Buffa, CEO of the WVP Health Authority, told The Lund Report.

Kate Brown will be an excellent governor, with her expert credentials and tremendous wealth of legislative experience, added Buffa, who’s tired of the media labelling her as bisexual, which, she said, will not make her a good or a bad governor. “Her sexuality should have nothing to do with her role; it doesn’t matter to me at all, and she certainly has my support.”

Dr. Chuck Hofmann, who knows Kitzhaber well, called him a pioneer and a true star. “I’m very sorry for what happened and am very proud of his accomplishments, and hope we continue on.”

From the perspective of Len Bergstein, who lobbies on behalf of ZoomCare, Kitzhaber will long be remembered for his role in transforming the healthcare delivery system, But, at the same time, he fumbled the ball when it came to Cover Oregon, the health insurance exchange.

“Clearly he somehow turned away from the details of that implementation, and that’s one of the things people will comment on – that he didn’t develop a working exchange, and it fell apart,” he said.

Kitzhaber was also very supportive of legislation fostered by ZoomCare, such as including pharmacy services at its local clinics and giving nurse practitioners and physician assistants a larger role.

“It’s been pretty clear that healthcare reform has been a consistent part of the governor’s attention,” Bergstein said. “The way we provide care to those at the poorest end of the economic spectrum is due to his reforms.”

Bergstein also expects Governor Kate Brown to be a champion for working families. Diane can be reached at [email protected].

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