Oregon Legislators Must Do Better in the Fight Against Costly Chronic Disease

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Oregon, despite its well-deserved reputation as a state that embraces healthy living habits, still has a serious chronic disease problem. According to the most recent data available from the Oregon Health Authority, approximately one in 12 of the state’s adults is afflicted with cancer. A quarter-million residents have some form of cardiovascular disease. Over 300,000 Oregonians are coping with diabetes. In all, more than 1.7 million adult citizens in the state have one or more chronic illnesses.
To address this problem, we’re faced with both good and bad news. On the positive side, we know the significant health benefits derived from good nutritional habits, regular exercise, and smoking cessation. We’re also fortunate that extraordinary biopharmaceutical advances in recent years have given us medications that are more effective in preventing heart failure, controlling diabetes, and even increasing the odds of beating cancer.
The bad news is that Oregon is not addressing the key issues that make health care expensive—the rising prevalence of chronic disease and the high costs of treating patients with multiple chronic conditions. Instead, the Oregon legislature is considering House Bill 2387, which would impose an arbitrary price ceiling on prescription drugs sold in the state, a ceiling for which there appears to be no particular scientific or economic rationale. Worse yet, the legislation does nothing to lower costs or improve access for patients.
Addressing the high out of pocket costs and premiums facing Oregon consumers needs a more comprehensive approach. First, the state could adopt measures designed to reduce the rising prevalence of chronic disease. Second, enacting delivery system reforms that keep patients with multiple chronic conditions healthier and out of the hospital not only improves quality but reduces health care costs for all. In addition to attacking the cost issue head on, the Oregon legislature could also take positive, necessary actions to improve access to innovative and effective medical treatments. There is state senate legislation, for example, that would prohibit health benefit plans and state medical assistance programs from discriminating in their coverage of health services. In other words, your age, your state of illness, or your disability could not serve as barriers to getting coverage for the best treatments available for your condition.
This is the kind of approach that provides affordable access to vital treatments without the adverse consequences that would be inevitable if government impedes investment in the research and development that is generating better medicines.
No doubt, we’ve witnessed tremendous progress in the fight against costly chronic disease. We know that lifestyle steps can prevent illness. We have genomic tools to better predict predisposition to illnesses like heart disease and cancer. We have better medicines to control symptoms and even send certain diseases into retreat. But still we have an enormous amount of work to do to achieve an optimal level of population health. The nearly two million Oregonians with chronic disease is evidence of that fact. This is not the time to take away the tools necessary to win this fight.