From today's Oregonian.
When small-business owners, middle-class families and senior citizens in Oregon talk about health care, they don't sound anything like the national political talking heads. Instead, people tell me they expect government to help improve the health care system to deliver better care at less cost.
I hear strong support for critical elements of the federal Affordable Care Act -- like having insurance companies treat consumers fairly, providing better coverage for preventive care like mammograms and other cancer screenings, reducing the cost of prescription drugs and eliminating a lifetime maximum on health benefits.
In fact, small employers were among the strongest supporters of the health insurance exchange passed recently by the Oregon Legislature well ahead of the requirements of the president's health care law. Small-business owners pay an average of 18 percent more than larger businesses for employee health coverage -- that's money that otherwise would be available to expand their businesses and hire more workers. They see the value of an exchange as a central marketplace for insurance, with more options, more information and the ability to compare plans apples to apples.
Health reform is making a difference for Oregonians and for all Americans. Working people will no longer have to worry about losing coverage if they are laid off or change jobs, and insurance companies are now prohibited from discriminating against someone with a pre-existing condition. People have access to better coverage, and states like Oregon have the flexibility we need to drive down costs while improving the delivery of health care for those who need it most.
In just the past year, nearly 45,000 Oregon seniors covered by Medicare saved $23.5 million on the cost of their prescription drugs, while nationwide 3.6 million seniors saved an average of $600 each on prescriptions. And 35,000 more young adults in Oregon have health insurance on their parents' plans thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
There are even bigger savings to come. In Oregon, we anticipate more than $3 billion in savings over the next five years from changes to Medicaid made possible with assistance from the new federal health care law. With wide bipartisan majorities, the Oregon Legislature adopted reforms to transform the health care delivery system by better coordinating and integrating care among doctors, hospitals and other providers; shifting the focus and the financial incentives from acute care to prevention; and managing chronic conditions such as diabetes and congestive heart failure at home and in the community, rather than in the hospital. The potential national savings from innovations like these is enormous -- not to mention the resulting improvement in the health of Americans.
I applaud the president for enacting the first comprehensive health care reform in half a century and for recognizing the importance of allowing local flexibility to achieve the goals of better access, better care and lower costs. In Oregon, Democrats and Republicans are working together, stepping up to the challenge of making the system work better for families, for businesses and for health care providers. We are well down the road to creating a new system, and the future is bright for improving the health of our nation.