By Knute Buehler
The Portland Tribune
As a doctor who has devoted my life to health and healing and as a lawmaker who supports Oregon’s expanded Medicaid program, I am gravely concerned about the lack of leadership from Gov. Kate Brown that has created an atmosphere of chaos, corruption and incompetence around the management, funding and delivery of health care services that millions of Oregonians rely upon every day.
Last week, it was revealed that for three years the state government has overpaid $74 million to 16 health care providers through the Medicaid program. That’s $74 million of your tax dollars. Almost as bad, state health care managers were aware of this problem for nearly a year and chose to conceal the overpayments from legislators and the public until last week. What was the governor’s response? She said she was out of the loop in the very government she allegedly leads. This is a deflection and dodge, not leadership or accountability.
When I learned of the overpayments, I quickly sent a letter to the governor demanding she do three things:
1. Get Oregonians’ money back — with interest.
2. Appoint an independent investigator to find out how this happened and who should be accountable.
At first, the governor refused to demand repayment. But after criticism came her way, she reversed course. I applaud Gov. Brown for joining me in demanding repayment of these tax dollars. Unfortunately, she still refuses to launch an investigation to find out the truth, and she hasn’t released any documents from her office on this subject. I hope the governor will change her mind and realize that finding the truth and fixing problems begins with transparency and trust.
Now that getting Oregonians’ money back is a bipartisan goal shared by both the governor and me, I am requesting that the governor and my 89 colleagues in the House and Senate join me in supporting legislation to make it the law when we meet in Salem in February.
House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney, so far, have been silent on this scandal, but I hope they will be the first to sign on to the legislation — or propose their own bill. Given the unfortunate track record of waste and mismanagement in Medicaid going back to Cover Oregon, good intentions and nice words from state leaders are no longer sufficient. We need bipartisan leadership and the force of law to ensure accountability and to regain taxpayer trust.
Oregon has a proud tradition of innovative thinking and bipartisan leadership in health care policy. Since the advent of the Oregon Health Plan in the 1980s, to expanding access to health care for low-income children, through the launch of coordinated care organizations (CCOs), and allowing the sale of over-the-counter birth control for women, Oregon has been a health care policy leader.
Unfortunately, under Brown’s watch, this legacy is in tatters. More important, the health of Oregonians who rely on health care services is at risk. Every dollar wasted on a failed computer system or overpayment to a provider is a dollar that can’t be spent providing health care to Oregonians. That’s the biggest scandal of all.
The health care safety net we provide Oregonians through Medicaid is vital. As governor, I will work to make health care more accessible and more affordable. That’s my commitment to you.
But first, we must save our Medicaid system from the failed leadership of Gov. Brown. We must ensure overpayments to providers are returned, we must investigate how this happened and why, we must make needed reforms to prevent future waste and we must recapture Oregon’s commitment to bipartisan innovation in health care policy. Oregonians deserve better than the failing status quo.
Knute Buehler is a state representative and orthopedic surgeon from Bend. He is running for the Republican nomination for governor.