Oregon Health Authority Seeks $1 Billion Boost from General Fund for Next Cycle

The 2017-2019 budget proposal shows a 56 percent increase in general fund spending from the current budget from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion.

Oregon Health Authority Director Lynne Saxton has released her agency’s budget request for 2017 to 2019, asking that the state pony up a billion dollars more than the current budget, raising the state’s stake in the healthcare agency from $2.14 billion to $3.33 billion.

“The Oregon Health Authority’s core mission is to ensure a healthy Oregon for all of its 4 million citizens, and for individuals relying on the Oregon Health Plan/Medicaid,” Saxton wrote in a statement supporting the new budget request.

“Projections for Oregonians eligible for the Oregon Health Plan are higher than originally anticipated in 2013. At the same time, federal Medicaid funding is decreasing. This growth, combined with the volatility of the original one-time funding for OHP/Medicaid, challenges our ability to continue to deliver high-quality and cost-effective health care to Oregonians in need.”

The current budget, which expires at the end of June 2017, allocated the Oregon Health Authority $20.5 billion, from federal and state sources. Three-quarters of that funding, or $15.5 billion, is organized in the “Health Systems Division,” a new department implemented by Director Lynne Saxton to cover both the Medicaid program and behavioral health programs.

Saxton is asking for $21.5 billion to cover the agency’s costs and responsibilities for 2017-2019, which overall is a modest increase compared to the last budget cycle, when the agency’s budget shot up 10 percent to cover the cost of the Medicaid expansion.

Oregon budget writers, including Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, the Senate chairman of the Ways & Means committee, have wondered openly about how the state would pay for the increased share of the Medicaid program, which the Health Authority says will cost an additional $771 million.

The state would need $3.14 billion to fund existing commitments, but the Oregon Health Authority is asking for roughly $200 million to spend on new priorities. That increase includes a boost in funding for public health, a line item providing additional support to coordinated care organizations to cover the cost of Hepatitis C treatment and an expansion of Medicaid to undocumented immigrant children, who are not eligible for federal assistance, which pays the bulk of the funding for citizens.

“Our clear choice is to commit to building on the success and tremendous advances gained over the past four years,” Saxton wrote. “They form a strong foundation to continue integration of physical, behavioral and oral health services and respond to the social and environmental factors that create barriers to optimum health for all Oregonians.”

Saxton also encouraged state budget writers to take a greater lead in funding public health, a responsibility long left to county governments in Oregon.

“There are many recent examples of the growing complexity of community demands for governmental public health services: the response to the international Zika and Ebola virus outbreaks; meningitis outbreaks at our university campuses; community support for the Umpqua Community College tragedy and the occupation in Harney County; preparation for a possible Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake; and the need to address environmental threats to human health,” Saxton wrote. “Investing in public health directly translates to investing in Oregon’s success now and for future generations.”

The budget also outlines some noteworthy changes in staffing. Despite asking for $30 million in new funding for public health modernization, the Public Health Division would lose 25 employees, from 785 to 760. At the same time, the health information technology unit would receive 15 new employees.

The Oregon Health Authority spokesman Robb Cowie did not provide any more detailed answers or explain the rationale for the personnel changes to The Lund Report by deadline.

Correction: The health information technology unit of the Oregon Health Authority was not in charge of Cover Oregon.

News source: